When you're popping bottles — or doing whatever cool kids do with bottles these days, like open them with a sword — you're probably still trying to do your best for the environment. Organic wine, recycling every can and bottle, locally sourcing — there are a lot of ways you can make sure that you're getting your party on in an environmentally-friendly way. But there's one little stick in the mud when it comes to drinking and recycling — and that's the cork. Can you recycle wine corks? Well, the answer is surprisingly complicated. In the traditional sense, not really — but there are a lot of things you can do to put those wine corks to good use.
Recycle Now is a really useful tool for when you're not sure about the recycling rules of a certain item— they have an A to Z of everything you could possibly think of that tells you if, and how, you can recycle them. The issue with wine corks is that they can't be recycled through most of the normal doorstep recycling methods — but you can put them in your compost bin. Or, if you have an at-home compost pile like I grew up with in the rural, rural hills of New Hampshire, you can throw them on there. But many companies now use plastic wine corks, so be sure to check the packaging if you're not sure.
The cool thing about corks is that even if you can't recycle them in the traditional sense, there are plenty of ways that you can put them to good use. Companies like ReCork America, the largest cork recycler in North America, take natural corks and turn them into shoes, yoga blocks, and more. You can find cork drop off locations on their site — they've recycled over 100 million so far. TerraCycle, meanwhile, accepts both natural and plastic versions and turns them into products, plus the company will give you rewards for recycling. It's worth looking around, because it may be that a company you already love or support that uses cork has a system to recycle them.
If you've got a bit of a green thumb or just consider yourself the crafty type, you may find something you can do something with those spare corks yourself. Not only are they really popular in crafts, Recycle Now suggests that you cut or grind up some corks to form a mulch to help you with your plants. "Orchid growers in particular have used sliced cork for generations to help the plant hold onto moisture," their website explains. "A good tip for those of us who aren't too good at remembering to water our plants!" As someone who is both lazy and feels at least a fleeting sense of remorse when I kill things through neglect, I appreciate this cork hack. Or, just use them as place card holders like the rest of us idiots who like to pretend that one day we'll have a dinner party even though that day never comes — there's no need to show off.
Recycling is definitely becoming more accessible, but issues like corks show that there's still a long way to go. There are still some recycling rules that can be hard to follow or remember — so always check the packaging when there's any doubt. But when it comes to corks, especially the natural ones, looking for companies who are willing to give them a second life might just be the best way forward.