I admit I am a wine lover, but I’ve recently been questioning the environmental impact of all the corks! Thoughts? Are plastic corks actually better?
–Clint, Washington D.C.
Thank you for your question because it led me to learn about the fascinating cork oak tree, which sustainably produces cork for over 15 billion biodegradable and recyclable cork stoppers every year, 70 percent of the bottle stopper industry.
Cork is the bark of the cork oak tree and is removed without killing the tree, and the cork bark renews itself before the next harvesting. The Mediterranean cork oak landscapes are biodiverse and provides a rich ecological habitat and 500,000 jobs in Portugal alone.
Plastic wine bottle stoppers are threatening the cork industry, with dire consequences for biodiversity, besides looking at pollution from the manufacture of plastic. So what is it about plastic wine bottle stoppers that has the industry taking over that of cork? Yes, there is the issue of “cork taint,” which is when the wine has a bad odor, usually resembling a strong mold, and the wine ruined and the cork considered responsible for the cause, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), which is a pollutant that can occasionally be found in cork trees, which gets passed to the corks, which gets passed to the wine. But plastic bottle stoppers can pollute wine with its flavor, as well, and I hate to think of plastic bottle stoppers floating in the ocean, and how many a whale would eat in their lifetime.
Screw tops for wine are gaining in popularity, even for the top wine makers. They are made of an aluminum alloy casing as an outer layer with an expanded polyethylene liner. Not a much better solution to my eye. The aluminum would be difficult to recycle and the polyethylene plastic, while one of the safer plastics, would surely migrate to the wine.