Local corks get second life

Kaylyn Kluck, [email protected]


Used corks will stay local instead of taking a trip halfway around the world.

Roughly a month ago, the Iowa City Recycling Department launched a recycling initiative for wine lovers: People and local businesses are now encouraged to start saving their used corks to recycle.

Initially, the wine stoppers were to be donated to ReCORK, a for-profit company that collects recycled corks. According to its website, ReCORK reuses corks for new products, such as yoga mats and floor tiles.

City Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jordan said it was easy setting up the project.

“It seemed to be good timing,” she said, “We have the facilities at the East Side to be able to take on small projects like this that take essentially no city money, just a little time. So it seemed like a good fit.”

The cork recycling initiative is part of a larger, global effort to preserve cork forests.

Patrick Spencer, the director of the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance, said cork is the most sustainably harvested product in the world. He gave a TED Talk titled “From Bark to Bottle” on the importance of preserving the forests in Portugal.

“They have the third-highest level of biodiversity of any forest region on the planet,” he said. “There are 13,000 indigenous species.”

However, Spencer said, he does not believe Iowa City’s wine stoppers should be sent to ReCORK — which claims to be North America’s largest cork recycling initiative on its website.

“Everything they’re doing in that recycling program is contrary to an environmental benefit,” he said.

Spencer said the ReCORK recycling process puts large amounts of carbon dioxide in the air. ReCORK initially sends the cork to Maryland to be granulated and then to China to be made into sellable products, he said.

“The carbon footprint is going to be massive by shipping those corks to China and back,” Spencer said. “It’s called “greenwashing,” which means on the surface it looks pretty good.”

ReCORK could not be reached by The Daily Iowan by the time of publication.

Jordan said most of Iowa City’s collected corks will be donated to the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center instead.

“If we can keep them local, it’s far better than sending them elsewhere to be reused,” she said. “It’s all about upcycling and reusing.”

Iowa City Arts Supervisor Joyce Carroll said the corks will be used for craft projects, such as making bulletin boards.

“There’s a variety of different things we can do, but we can also use them in some of our science projects as well,” she said.

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