Dear Recyclebank: When I recycle wine bottles, do I need to remove the corks? Does it matter if it’s cork or plastic? When I recycle wine or beer bottles, do I need to remove the metal caps or rings around the tops of the bottles? –Gail J.
Dear Gail: I am sure a lot of our readers would like to know the right way to recycle both wine and beer bottles, especially with the holidays coming up! Let’s start with corks, after which we will cover those metal caps and rings.
To answer the first part of your question: Yes, you should remove the corks before recycling the bottles — whether they’re made of natural cork or plastic. In most municipal recycling programs, the corks run the chance of getting stuck in, and jamming, the machinery. And because there’s probably not a large enough local natural cork market for your recycler to be a part of, chances are that any natural corks in your recycling bin are going to wind up in a landfill.
But the good news is that corks can have more than one life, and can definitely be recycled. In fact, both types of wine plugs — cork and plastic — are recyclable through some specialty recycling programs, and composting is also an option for natural corks.
ReCORK, which started in 2008, accepts natural wine corks from wineries, restaurants, and individuals. Their site lists various cork drop off-centers, as well as recycling partners who do not accept drop-offs, but do recycle the corks they use. Although not ubiquitous, there are many of both (drop-off centers and recycling partners) listed for North America. Some recycling centers may have a minimum limit they accept, but that shouldn’t be hard to reach, especially if you spread the word and collect from friends. Another player in this field is Cork ReHarvest, a part of the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance. They collect loose cork through boxes at grocers (like all Whole Foods), wine shops, and winery tasting rooms. According to Cork ReHarvest, there are 13 billion natural corks produced each year — that’s a lot of cork that can be recycled!
The options for recycling plastic wine corks are a bit more limited. Though most seem to be made from #4 or #7 plastic, their size is still often a problem for traditional MRF machinery. Terracycle accepts Naked Grape® packaging like natural wine bottle corks, synthetic corks, metal screw-top caps, and foil cork wrappers. And Nomacorc, a synthetic cork producer, works with a few retailers in Texas and Washington to collect and then recycle plastic corks.
Now onto the metal caps and rings: Similar to wine corks, metal bottle caps and rings from wine bottles or beer bottles are also recyclable, but you have to take care to make sure they get recycled. If they’re left on glass bottles, they will fall off and separate from glass when the glass is crushed and turned to cullet — but that’s usually too late for them to be salvaged and added to the metal recyclables, and they’ll likely wind up in the landfill. You can remove them from the glass first, but, the small metal bottle caps should never be placed loose in the recycling bin — they can cause mechanical problems on the conveyer belts and in the machinery at recycling facilities. If you do remove them from the bottles, here are two ways to make sure they get recycled:
- You can put them in other recyclable metal cans. Make sure the cans are then shut or “crimped” so the small pieces won’t fall out. But please practice safe recycling! Aluminum is very sharp, and you should prioritize your safety over making sure these pesky little pieces of metal get recycled.
- If your hauler accepts aluminum foil, wrap them in large wads of clean, used aluminum foil, and then dump them in the recycling bin.
In the end, all the above are guidelines. It’s always wise to check in with your local recycling authority, as guidelines and processes vary from area to area. And if you’re all out of cork recycling options, there are plenty of DIY cork reuse ideas out there.