Are We Corking the Cork?

Dear Annie,
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.

Dear Clint,

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.

31 comments

Elisabeth T.
Elisabeth T.3 years ago

Good article, thank you...

Nimue Pendragon

Plastic wine stoppers are horrible, real cork ones are so much nicer. I don't throw my real corks out, I keep them. One day I will have enough to make a cork board :)

Dale Overall

The idea of substituting plastic for cork is not very appealing, full of many toxins no doubt plus very difficult to recycle. Soon if this idea starts to fly not only will we have to find things to do with recycling plastic bottle caps (at home as these do not recycle well)--we may have to add "in home" uses for the plastic cork bottles to that list as well. Not appealing at all since reusing plastic bottle caps has limited appeal.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.4 years ago

thanks for sharing

Lucy Bell
Lucy Bell4 years ago

So far in France most wine makers are still using proper corks, but I'm starting to see some plastic things from time to time

Nirvana Jaganath
Nirvana Jaganath4 years ago

Thanks

John B.
John B.4 years ago

I only use wine for cooking but I never buy a wine that has a plastic cap, only cork. Thanks for the article Annie.

Chris Ray
Chris R.5 years ago

Thanks!~

Chris Ray
Chris R.5 years ago

Thanks!~

K s Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.