June’s Dustbin Demon

Filed in Blog by on May 27, 2008 17 Comments
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 Dustbin Demon - the plastic cork

Ladies and Gentlemen. We present to you this month’s Dustbin Demon:

The plastic cork!

Hands up who has noticed that more and more bottles of wine contain a plastic cork?

Prior to our zero waste challenge, these corks have gone in the bin without note. They’re only tiny, they weigh next to nothing, no big deal, right?

Why are wine producers using plastic corks?

Plastic corks are increasing in popularity because they are cheaper than real corks and there is no risk of the wine being ‘corked’. Around 5% of the wine that is produced is corked which means it is tainted with a chemical called tricholoroanisole (TCA). In small amounts it makes the wine flat and tasteless. In larger amounts the wine is undrinkable and thus wasted. (but we are assured that the wine is still safe to drink and not harmful to health. So if it’s a Saturday night and the shops are shut, just go ahead and drink it anyway – hic…..)

The Problem with Plastic corks

Most of us know by now that plastic is made from oil. A plastic cork, therefore is a non renewable product that does not break down down for a long time once it reaches the landfill. Hundreds of years after your bottle of wine has been enjoyed, the plastic cork will be sitting in a landfill somewhere.

I can hear you now – corks are only tiny; surely switching to plastic doesn’t make that much difference?
Well, dear readers, we need to look at this issue from all angles.

Portugal produce around 60% of the world’s cork. It is a major contributor to the exports of the country and local employment. Cork is used to make floor tiles, roofing, insulating material and shoes, but the manufacture of cork stoppers accounts for a whopping 70% of the industry’s income.

For years, our love of wine (well, not OUR love of wine you understand, but wine drinkers across the globe) have kept the cork forests standing and the livelihoods of generations intact through a demand for their cork. If the demand for plastic corks increases and these cork forests get cut down we will end up with a bigger burden on our rapidly depleting oil, more rubbish in the landfill, loss of habitat and biodiversity, possible extinction of some birds, plants or animals and loss of livelihood for thousands of families.

It’s no small fry when you look at the bigger picture, is it?

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  1. russell says:

    I am starting to be more aware about things made of oil – it saddened me to realise (I cannot believe I didn’t realise before) that of course Crocs are. Now I have a dilemma – do I buy another pair when mine finally bite the dust?! I know they can be re-cycled but still a oil dependency….

  2. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Russell,
    You have to be so careful don’t you; otherwise the whole oil issue becomes paralysing. Once you have a bit of knowledge, you can end up tying yourself in knots and being unable to make a good decision.
    I guess the key is that we all do our best with the knowledge we have and the choices available.

    We have crocs too but tbh, I can’t imagine them EVER wearing out!

    Mrs G x

  3. Sue says:

    I thought plastic corks were being used as the Cork Oak tree was being infected by a virus, and it was killing the tree. Maybe not then, shows my ignorance!

  4. Sue says:

    Phytophthora ramorum, I will have to look into it!

  5. Mrs Green says:

    I’ve not heard of that Sue, please do tell us of anything you find out.

    I wonder why the tree is being infected like that (if it is…….)

    Mrs G x

  6. Louise says:

    I’d say at least 90% of the wine we buy in our house has screw caps – in fact, I tend to look out for bottles like this, as it’s easier to store – we rarely drink a bottle in one go 🙂

  7. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Louise – thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts with us 🙂

    I guess metal caps do have their use if you don’t drink all the wine in one go. It’s not very easy to convince a cork to fit back in the bottle!

    Mrs G x

  8. Indigo Girl says:

    Before I continue… your site is seriously cool! Thank you!!!
    But here goes… just out of interest sake… does anybody have any idea how purchasing a 5 litre box of wine compares to buying bottles of wine when taking the Dust Bin Demon’s into consideration?

    Here in South Africa, we’re fortunate enough to be able to purchase relatively decent wines in metallic-like bags with a plastic spout, inside a cardboard box. If anybody out there with some relative knowledge can tell me how this compares with buying 6 (and a half…) bottles of wine (750 ml bottles) in terms of waste, land-fills, etc… I’d be seriously impressed and appreciative!!!

  9. Poppy says:

    I’ve not done any research (hic!), but I would say the bottles win because they are easy to recycle. Although you could recycle the cardboard outer from your box, I don’t think there is much you can do with the bag.

    Someone else may know otherwise.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Indigo girl – welcome, all the way from South Africa 🙂 Thank you for your compliment about the site. Your query is interesting, because it is something I have questioned myself. And last week, we even came across 1 litre of wine in a tetrapak!
    I don’t have the answer to your question, but if it were me, I would contact the manufacturer of the wine and find out if it can be recycled. The components sound like a tetrapak, but you’d need to find out for sure if it can be recycled.
    At the moment I would say glass bottles are better, but then we have to consider, as you say, 6 bottles being recycled, compared to one cardboard container not being recycled. What a conundrum. Have you taken the various component layers apart? What did you find? It might be that you can take off the cardboard and recycle and are just left with a bit of foil / plastic mixed material that goes to landfill??

    Anyone else?

  11. Mr. Green says:

    I have some concerns about glass in general. Although it’s a good material to recycle, it’s very heavy in transportation and that provides another problem. We tend to think of waste in terms of packaging and things for the landfill, but in fact air pollution is also waste and a major contributor to CO2 overload. Here are some figures; an average glass 750 ml bottle of wine weighs 1320g full. Empty it weighs 590g. Thats 730g of fluid weight. So the glass bottle takes up 44% or nearly half of the gross weight of the product. This is a significant weight overhead for transportation. Greater weight, bigger engines and vehicles to carry it = more CO2 emmissions per glass of wine.

    Personally, I love the whole presentation thing of glass wine bottles, but I’m seeing that ecologically, it is not a sound solution. You can see why so many manufacturers have opted for lighter packaging materials, like plastics. There are much better economic returns for them.

    I tend to think that tetrapacks are the way to go, considering that many wines are exported across the world, meaning big weight overheads. I have also seen wine packed in tins, which is lightweight and can look quite good, except it does not pour well at the table.

  12. Deb from Boston says:

    I just noticed the dustbin demon section of your site and found the cork issue interesting. What I hate about synthetic corks – you can’t write on them. I have a practice of having guests who share a bottle w/ me to sign and date to remember the celebration. It is very difficult w/ the fake corks.

    Anyway – on todays Ask Umbra from Grist.org someone posted the question about the food safety of synthetic corks – see the link below.


  13. Mrs Green says:

    Hey Deb, all the way from Boston – great to see you here! Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts. Your idea of writing the celebration on corks is lovely – do you do anything with them afterwards like make them into a board or anything?
    Thanks for the link to Grist – I love that site and I hadn’t seen the one about the safety of corks. Tbh, I had not thought about it until you mentioned it.

  14. Mr. Green says:

    Hi Deb from Boston. I fully agree with that idea with the corks. Another idea I have used is to make a cork nitice board. It’s very functional and attractive. It amounts to making a wooden frame around a piece of flat wood, about 2ft square. Then cut corks in half down the middle, so you get 2 nice flat surfaces. Now stick the curved side down on the flat wooden part of the frame to cover the whole surface. You need maybe 100 corks to do this, but you can stick them down in some interesting patterns, such as herringbone. The finished result is a very nice, totally natural notice board and accepts pins easily.

  15. Deb from Boston says:

    I have seen the cork boards made from wine corks before – but know we just collect them and put them in wine glasses that we get from touring wineries.

  16. Monica from NJ says:

    In an effort to eliminate trash, we saved our wine corks, as well(hey, every little bit helps, right?). Family Circle magazine (I picked it up at our local library, when I left some of my subscriptions there for others to read and recycle) had a pattern for a cute Christmas wreath made of corks and small jingle bells. I made several and gave them as Christmas gifts to my two sisters, who are wine lovers. They loved them! You can find the pattern on Familycircle.com.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Monica; good to see you. You are so right – every little bit DOES help because if we multiply millions of people doing a ‘little bit’, it becomes a HUGE change! The cork wreath sounds a very resourceful and original project – well done you; I bet you had fun making them and what a perfect gift for your wine-loving sisters!

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