Natural Cork - Recycling

The amazing destination of recycled cork

The cork stopper is an integral part of wine. However, after the bottle has been opened, what can be done with the used corks? Corticeira Amorim is a pioneer in the promotion of recycling corks, a concept which originated in Portugal and has spread to various parts of the world, such as the USA and Canada, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia. The small and simple gesture of recycling used cork stoppers provides an essential contribution to the vitality of the planet.

Cork stoppers are environment friendly by nature - they are a 100% natural product and do not cause pollution if they end up in the rubbish bin. However, they are also fully recyclable and reusable, which means that they have a clearly positive impact from a sustainability point of view. Increasing environmental awareness was the driving force behind a structured initiative to collect and recycle cork stoppers which no longer have any use. The first project, Green Cork, began in 2008 with a partnership between Amorim and the main Portuguese environmental association, Quercus. Since then, many others have appeared along the same lines in several countries and are a success. People actively contribute to the project, in a process that has conquered much more than the universe of wine consumers. Many supermarkets, airports, restaurants, wineries, sommeliers, schools and even scouts groups have taken up the challenge to give the cork stopper a new lease of life. All over the world, tens of millions of cork stoppers have been collected and recycled.

It is a simple gesture which greatly helps the environment. The recycled stoppers are treated and ground down in the world's first cork recycling unit, which has been in operation since 2009, at Amorim Cork Composites, an Amorim subsidiary, in Portugal. Once transformed into granules, they go back to being a raw material. Although it shall never be used in stoppers again, the recycled cork can be used in coverings, insulation, high competition kayaks, badminton rackets, tennis and cricket balls, car and aircraft components, design and fashion items and a multitude of other uses.

In the USA and Canada, cork stoppers gathered under the American ReCORK programme are used exclusively in the manufacture of footwear, through a partnership with the Canadian company, SOLE.

Recycling is an environment-friendly gesture

Every year around 12 billion cork stoppers are sold worldwide. Recycling, in addition to increasing the reuse of raw materials, enables the life cycle of cork stoppers to be extended. Therefore, not only is it possible to decrease the costs associated with the production of other high value-added products, but also to contribute to a cleaner world.

Cork stoppers absorb CO2 particles which they «inherited» from the bark of the cork oak, a tree which has the important ability to retain this gas which causes the greenhouse effect. If they are decomposed or incinerated, the CO2 is released into the atmosphere and shall contribute to global warming. Conversely, recycling enables the CO2 retention capacity of cork to be extended. In each tonne of cork stoppers, around 1.83 tonnes of CO2 is retained, which, once they have been recycled, this capacity is ensured forever, as the reuse of this raw material is unlimited.

More recycling, more forest, more society

Not a single oak is felled during the whole production process of cork stoppers or other cork products. However, some of Corticeira Amorim's recycling programmes, particularly in Portugal, have another mission besides the reuse of raw material, reverting to the creation of indigenous forests. The sums resulting from the recycling of cork stoppers are channelled into national environmental associations, with the goal of financing reforestation. Under these initiatives, thousands of species of Mediterranean trees are being planted, including the oak tree.

In Italy, the collection and recycling of cork stoppers takes on not only an environmental nature, but also a social one: for each tonne of cork stoppers collected, one thousand Euros are donated to civil society, through non-profit organisations and a partnership with a construction company of energy-efficient buildings. Thousands of Euros have already been donated, especially to institutions which fight against cancer and support people with handicaps, as well as institutions related to the protection of the environment.

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Nothing is lost, everything is transformed

Recycling used cork stoppers or reusing the by-products resulting from the production of new stoppers are principles which are strongly related to each other. Both are current practice at Amorim. Just 30% of cork is used to manufacture natural stoppers, but what is left is not wasted - it is transformed into granules and returned to the production process. The same happens when cork stoppers are rejected by quality control: since the company has the unique technical capacity to reuse the cork for endless products, its destination is similar to recycled stoppers, that is, to generate other applications which take advantage of the unique properties of cork.

The possibility to reuse the raw material is so vast that it includes the cork dust resulting from recycling being used as a source of energy. At Amorim, over 60% of energy needs are met by using cork dust (biomass), which is a CO2 neutral source of energy.

Learn about the cork stopper collection projects in:
Portugal - greencork
France - ecobouchon
USA and Canada - recork
Italy - etico