September 12, 2009

Eco Tip of the Day: Boycott Plastic Corks.

Eco Tip of the Day: Boycott Wine with non-biodegradable, toxic Plastic Corks, and save Cork Forests and Jobs. And endangered species.

Plastic is Forever.

Like wine? Cork is one of the most eco-friendly things ever: from providing jobs for farmers, homes for wildlife, and it’s compostable, biodegradable. Plastic is forever, related to cancer, full of chemical additives. 

I’ll never get tired of saying it. Furthermore, it’s toxic—it’ll leave a nice subtle aftertaste on that wine you’re storing in your cellar.

Most importantly, however, natural cork is renewable, compostable (I actually throw ’em in my backyard in place of mulch, they look cool and are comfy to tread on in bare feet), and cork forests provide refuge for vast stores of wild life.

Corks for wine: it’s one of those wholesome, traditional, wabi sabi (imperfect, and beautiful) things that doesn’t need improving on—at least not until we manage to improve upon it.

As they say in sports, If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it.

For more, read the whole article below here:

…Peter Weber, director of the Natural Cork Quality Council, says plastic corks now represent 10 percent of corks used in the United States, among the first countries to embrace the product. However, he says plastic poses an environmental threat to the three million acres of natural cork forests and wildlife in Spain and Portugal. That acreage represents half of the world’s natural cork forest and about 80 percent of natural cork produced worldwide.

Cork forests provide a wooded grassland habitat which houses at least 42 bird species and 60 plant species, including the endangered Spanish imperial eagle and Iberian lynx, according to nonprofit conservation group BirdLife International. Unlike plastic, cork is a natural, renewable resource, biodegradable and environmentally friendly. Trees are stripped of exterior bark every nine years with no harm done to the tree, Weber says.

Weber says if plastic takes over 15 percent of corks used worldwide, which could happen by 2015, the European cork industries will crumble and take the cork forests with them. Cork for wine brings in 70 percent of the income, he says. Even with other uses for cork, like floor tile and shoes, it won’t compensate for the loss of wine revenue, Weber says. As a result, economic pressures could force farmers to convert their forests for other uses, like eucalyptus timber farms or more intensive farming. This would not only disrupt the natural ecosystem and increase erosion, but also require far more water.

Andy Starr, president of plastic cork maker Neocork Technologies, says plastic is more attractive to some winemakers because it is cheaper and prevents contamination that can ruin wine. Starr says natural cork is responsible for an organic chemical that causes “cork taint,” a stale moldy taste, which ruins between three and five percent of wine. Natural cork makers say the spoiling chemical can also be found in machinery and wine aging barrels. Weber says natural cork makers have improved production and inspection, resulting in less contamination. However, Starr says customers will use the best product, and ultimately the natural cork-producing countries have a choice about the future of their cork forests. “Those forests are still there. They can elect what they want to do with them,” he says. “To destroy habitat is their choice. They should blame themselves.” Furthermore, Starr says the plastic corks are recyclable, although only a minority of his customers put the recyclable code on their corks…

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John Aug 26, 2010 4:18pm

I don’t know how you can make such a clear assertion in the post title. Plastic corks may last forever, but they can be recycled and if landfilled lock away carbon forever. If the oil is into plastic corks it will most likely create carbon dioxide when it is burnt.

Of course the cork forests are important but they are actually man made plantations for the cork industry. The natural environment would have a different mix of trees. Cork production is an industry too. If used for another purpose, the land could still support a local sustainable community.

Personally, I think there are bigger fish to fry when looking for a more sustainable lifestyle. Or perhaps not, it looks like the oceans are being emptied of fish faster than they can be replaced.

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