Putting Smart Closure On New Year’s Bottles

If there was a way in 2015 for winemakers and consumers to gain momentum in green wine production and consumption, what might that be?

The idea of recycling wine enclosures has, to date, received little attention since blogger Jennifer Grayson took up the subject in 2009 on Huffington Post. And that’s no surprise as cork focus is still mostly about protecting wine and eliminating tainted bottles. But in this time of heightened green consciousness – beginning in the vineyard and ending with empty bottles – the idea of reusing or recycling enclosures is novel to most consumers. And so corks of all types – billions produced annually – and newer Stelvin enclosures, all tend to end up in landfills.

While it may not make quick compost, recycled natural cork is being used in composite flooring and in products as diverse as shoe soles. A few businesses in the United States solicit natural, unpressed used corks for reuse. There’s an emerging market here worth cultivating.

It’s a different story for composite and plastic corks, Zorks, Stelvin twist-offs and aluminum caps.

Composite corks, made from a variety of cork bits and binders, seem to have little potential for reuse: destination, landfill. Although some plastic cork manufacturers claim plastic used in wine corks is recyclable, no unified industry or recycling effort is in place to alert consumers. So plastic corks and Zorks, a brand of plastic wine stopper used by a few wineries, tend to end up in landfills.

Stelvin aluminum enclosures, developed by the 1970’s and now commonplace in the wine industry, would seem likely candidates for recycling. But in states with vigorous recycling programs like Wisconsin and Minnesota, Stelvin and other caps remain absent from lists of acceptable sources of aluminum. That shouldn’t stop conscientious consumer recyclers from bringing Stelvin caps to regional scrap metal processors who will take them.

There are ways to minimize the use of disposable enclosures. Tetra wine packs are recyclable, but doing what Mas de Gourgonnier in Les Baux de Provence did on a previous visit is a model of how to eliminate packaging altogether. On my last stop, the well-known, organically farmed property had a lively tasting room where neighbors and locals popped in with their own take-out plastic jugs, which were promptly filled with red, rose, or huile d’olive. By eliminating the need for a bottle – at least for local consumers – the estate spared the cost of bottles which would eventually be discarded or recycled. And they also eliminated the cost and waste of cork, which – by most accounts – still ends up landfills around the globe.

Beer drinkers around the country now bring used growlers to breweries, brew pubs, and liquor stores for fill-ups. Perhaps it’s time for a similar means of obtaining wine at stores and wineries in America while at the same time reducing the use of non-recyclable wine enclosures.