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Is Cork Eco-Friendly When it Comes to Wine?

cork good for environment

Have you ever wondered whether a cork stopper or a screw top is the most eco-friendly option when it comes to wine? Read on and find out!

I’ll admit – I like wine.  Sauvignon blanc, Prosecco, Malbec, and Merlot are my tipples of choice.  Come Friday night, after the baby is in bed, you’ll more often than not find me with a well-deserved glass of wine in my hand. I’ve even got a guide to ethical wine right here.

Over the past few years, plastic stoppers and screw-top wine bottles have infiltrated the wine market.  At first, when screw tops started appearing I thought “how convenient” – no more searching for a bottle opener, and no more corked wine.  However lately I’ve started to wonder if cork is eco-friendly, or if their screw-top equivalents are more environmentally friendly?

Surely a Screw Top Is Best?

My initial thought was surely yes, screw tops are more environmentally friendly. Especially as trees have to be cut down to extract the cork, whereas metal can be recycled.  

Then I started looking into it, and as it turns out I was completely wrong.  What I found was that cork is eco-friendly as cork is one of the most sustainable materials in the world.  Meanwhile, the dominance of screw tops on wine bottles is actually threatening ancient Mediterranean cork oak forests.  Screw tops and plastic stoppers also contribute to widespread environmental destruction.

What’s So Eco-Friendly About Cork?

Across Portugal, Southern France, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Turkey are swathes of ancient cork oak forest.  These forests are home to endangered and rare species.  These include the Short-Toed Eagle, the Egyptian Mongoose, the Barbary deer, and the Iberian Lynx.  These cork oak forests are also home to biologically important flora and fungi.  And what’s more, the presence of the forest also prevents the soil from drying out and turning into a dust bowl.

You may be wondering how is cork eco-friendly if this is the case?  Well, to extract the cork you may be surprised to hear that not one single tree is cut down.  Instead, the bark of the cork oak trees is peeled away.  The cork is then carefully extracted manually by very highly skilled harvesters.  The trees are in no way damaged and the cork forest in Portugal alone absorbs around 10 million tons of CO2 each year.

Cork is naturally renewable and grows back after nine years.  This system preserves the forest in its pristine entirety.  It also enables perpetual harvesting with no damage to the forest or ecosystem.

natural cork harvest

This ability to renew itself is not the only superpower that cork possesses. Cork is also completely biodegradable.  And from a social point of view, cork extraction from oak is also a highly skilled job, in rural areas where jobs are hard to come by.  This skilled work pays very well and helps to support viable rural communities.

Why Screw Tops Aren’t As Eco-Friendly As Cork

With the widespread infiltration of screw-top wine bottles, the lack of demand for cork means the oak forests are losing their value.  A loss in value means the forests are more likely to be exploited in unsustainable ways.  This threatens the habitat of vulnerable species, threatens livelihoods and threatens the viability of rural communities, and brings the risk of areas turning into dustbowls.  Removal of trees also impacts the ground – meaning flooding is more likely.  So cork is definitely the most eco-friendly way forward.

I mentioned I initially thought aluminium screw tops were easily recycled. In fact, it turns out screw tops are not widely recyclable.  More often than not they are too small to be easily recycled. Meanwhile, the plastic stoppers are not recyclable.  On top of this, mining for bauxite (the ore from which aluminium is produced) is one of the most damaging practices on earth.  As such, the increased use of screw tops contributes to this destructive practice.

The plastic seal on the inside of the screw top and the plastic stopper can leach chemicals into the wine, causing taint.  It can also be damaging to human health, which isn’t too great either.

What Can You Do?

What can you do?  Well, the good news is it’s not difficult to help. To be an eco-friendly wine drinker, just always try and buy wine with a cork in it!  For me, it’s a good excuse to drink Prosecco as generally it is always stoppered with a natural cork!  So you can sit there, with a nice glass of sparkling wine, knowing that you are helping to preserve the forest. And at the same time, saving the habitat of the lynx, mongoose, eagle, and host of animals, as well as providing precious jobs in rural areas. I’ll raise a glass to that!

If you’re not buying Prosecco or Champagne It can be difficult to tell if wine is stoppered with natural cork due to the foil covering.  If in doubt shop at a quality wine merchant and ask.  The staff in these places are very knowledgeable about wine and will be able to direct you to natural cork stoppered wines.  100% Cork also has a handy list of wineries that support natural eco-friendly cork stoppers.  You can also look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Certification) symbol on wine labels.   There’s also a 100% Cork Facebook page which you can join to show your support.

My Wine Might Be Corked

If you’re worried about your wine being corked due the use of a natural stopper, then read on. The primary cause of cork taint is the presence of the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). TCA isn’t just found in cork. It’s also found naturally in wood, water, soil, fruit and vegetables. This means that myriad other factors, including the storage of wine in wooden barrels, can contribute to wine spoilage.

Over the last 20 years, wine producers have invested in new equipment and worked to refine production techniques. This has contributed to a sharp decline in tainted wine. Recent tests by the Cork Quality Council show a 95% reduction in TCA detection tests.

It’s also important to note that the move to plastic and screw-top bottles was not to prevent corkage.  It was actually for financial reasons.  Screw-tops are cheaper to produce than paying highly skilled harvesters to source cork.  So fear not about your precious wine!

Let’s all raise a glass to this sustainability superhero!

Garden, Home and Garden

Seeds to Sow in May

seeds to sow in May

Wondering which seeds to sow in May?

Let me share with you the seeds to sow, as well as handy growing tips for each plant.

Treat this sowing guide as a general guide.  Some years the typical growing season might be a few weeks out of kilter.  If it feels a little bit too cold outside,  you might instead want to wait until later in May to sow outdoors.  Alternatively, sow indoors or undercover, or else be ready with a fleece in case of any cold nights still ahead of us.

what seeds to sow in May

I originally made the guide image-based, but I’ve recently updated these with the text below in case any readers are visually impaired and use a text reader. 

What to Sow Outside:

what to sow in May UK

French beans

Sow seeds 5 cm deep into the soil.  Space the seeds 15 cm apart, with 45 cm between rows.

Beetroot

Sow your seeds 1cm deep into the soil. Space the seeds 10 cm apart, with 30 cm between rows.

Cabbage

Sow at a depth of 2cm, 25 cm apart.  Leave 30 cm between rows.

Kale

Sow at a depth of 1 cm, leaving 60 cm between seeds and rows.

Leeks

Sow at a depth of 1 cm, 15 cm apart.  Leave 30 cm between rows.

Turnip

Sow at a depth of 1cm, leaving 30 cm between rows.

Lettuce

Sow thinly at a depth of 1cm, leaving 30 cm between rows.

Runner beans

Sow two seeds at the base of a cane.  Plant them 5cm deep and space them 15 cm apart.

Broccoli

Sow three seeds 2cm deep, leaving 30cm between each row.

Cauliflower

Sow seeds thinly at a depth of 2cm. Depending on the size of the variety you’re growing, rows should be between 15 cm apart for small varieties to 60 cm apart for larger ones.

Chicory

Sow seeds thinly at a depth of 1cm, in rows 30 cm apart.

Peas

Make a flat-bottomed trench around 5cm deep and 15cm wide. Sow the seeds evenly in the trench about 7.5 cm apart, before covering them with a light layer of soil.  If you sow a second row, space it at a distance equal to the height of the final pea crop.

Kohl Rabi

Sow seeds, 1 cm deep in rows 30 cm apart.

Swedes

Sow 2cm deep in rows 38cm apart, and thin to 23cm apart.

Spring Onions

Sow thinly at a depth of 1cm in rows 10 cm apart.

What to Sow Undercover:

what to sow in May

Sweetcorn 

Grow sweetcorn in a warm, sheltered, sunny position, protected from strong winds.  I find a polytunnel works best. Sweetcorn is pollinated by the wind, therefore seeds should be sown in blocks rather than rows, 45cm apart. Try sowing two or three seeds at each point, then thin out the extra seedlings to leave just the strongest one.

Courgette

Sow two or three seeds in the centre of a 2.5 cm deep hole. Cover with a glass or plastic cloche, and leave the covering in place for at least two weeks. If more than one seed germinates, remove the smaller, weaker seedlings to leave just the strongest one.

Marrow

Similar to courgettes, sow two or three seeds at a depth of 2.5cm and cover with a cloche for at least two weeks.  Then thin the seedlings to leave the strongest one.

Pumpkin – follow the advice for both courgettes and marrows.

What to Sow in Heat:

what to plant in May

Aubergine

Sow at 18-21°C in small pots.

Peppers (chilli peppers and sweet peppers)

Sow seeds in small pots.  Place the pots in a heated propagator at about 18–21°C, or on a warm windowsill.  If you don’t have a heated propagator, cover your pots with a clear plastic bag or clear lid to trap moisture and warmth.  Transplant your seedlings into 7.5–9 cm pots when two true leaves have formed.

Cucumber

Sow cucumber seeds on their side, at a depth of 1cm, in small pots. Keep them warm in a heated propagator, greenhouse, or on a sunny indoor windowsill.

Tomatoes

Sow in small pots, then either place in a propagator or cover each pot with a clear plastic bag and place on a sunny windowsill. The seedlings need to be kept at around 18°C. Once two true leaves have formed, transplant them into 9cm pots.

What seeds are you sowing this month?

I have lots of other useful gardening guides on Moral Fibres.  From some great sustainable garden ideas to why you should choose peat-free compost. and how to attract bees to your garden.

ps: if you’ve found this page through Google then for future reference you may be interested in my March and April sowing guides!  Bookmark them for next year!