Can you recycle wine corks? (Natural or synthetic)

  • Date: July 28, 2022

When it comes to recycling, wine corks are one of those items that many people don’t know what to do with – and, as a result, they end up in the trash. Both types of wine cork can be recycled – but not in the curbside recycling programs. There are specialist recycling programs for natural corks, but these are not available in every country. Re-using them in some way around the house or garden is the best bet if you don’t have a recycling program nearby. Here we will take a closer look. Firstly, let’s deal with natural cork – the most common variety.

Firstly, a bit of background – what is cork?

Cork is a highly sustainable natural material that comes from the bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber). It is lightweight, waterproof and durable – making it a great material for lots of items, including wine corks. Most natural cork is harvested from trees in Europe and northwestern Africa. Portugal has the largest cork oak tree population in the world and they lead the way when it comes to production of cork items.

So, can you recycle natural wine corks?

Although rules and regulations vary between areas, natural wine corks, typically, can’t be added to standard curbside collections. But don’t fear – there are other options! In the U.S. an organization called Recork has come to the rescue. They give your old, used natural wine corks a new life by grinding them down and developing them into new footwear products. All you need to do is drop off your used corks to a designated collection point – of which there are many nationwide.

The UK also have a scheme. Recorked UK works a bit differently. Rather than developing new products, they simply resell the corks to the hospitality industry or donate them to schools for craft activities. Hopefully, you can find something in your area that can work for you.

It should be noted, although natural wine corks are biodegradable you should still make every effort to recycle them in some way. Diverting them from landfill is key. If they end up in landfill, the conditions are not ideal for natural break down – items are squashed closely together making airflow and moisture poor, and the breakdown process can be very slow.

Re-use is also a great option, check out the video below for some ideas – or check out Pinterest for some inspiration.

Composting is an option for natural wine corks…

If you don’t have access to a recycling program (and you aren’t up for any wine cork crafts), home composting is an option too.

Natural cork is biodegradable and fit for composting. It will contribute nicely to the ‘brown’/carbon-rich part and help balance the nitrogen to carbon ratio of the pile. If you can, cut them up into smaller pieces – this can speed up the break down process. If you are new to composting, check out some of our beginners composting tips here to set you on your way.

What are synthetic corks made from?

Wine producers are turning towards synthetic corks which in some cases replicate the look of real cork. They tend to be made from standard plastics (derived from fossil fuels) or plant-based plastics. You should be able to tell the difference from natural corks – synthetic corks tend to a have a foamy/plastic-like texture and look more uniform than natural cork.

Can synthetic wine corks be recycled?

Synthetic wine corks, generally, can’t be recycled by standard curbside collections. But, as with the natural cork option, you may be able to find a specialist recycling scheme in your area. TerraCycle also offer an alternative – you can purchase a Zero-Waste Box from the website, fill it with synthetic wine corks and send it for recycling when it is full. However, the fee is quite hefty for the box and only really seems practical for eco-friendly hospitality businesses.

Re-use is another option for synthetic wine corks. They can be used in a similar way to the natural corks as in the video above. If none of the options interest you, pop over to Pinterest or YouTube to find more! Or why not give them away on a platform such as Gumtree – crafters are always on the lookout for items for their next project.

The bottom line

Wine bottles can easily be recycled but corks (both natural and synthetic) are a different matter.  Natural wine corks provide more options and are at least biodegradable. Synthetic corks, on the other hand, are a bit more awkward. With limited recycling options and composting not an option, re-using them creatively is your best bet!