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Small Steps Add Up: Recycling with Cork Reharvest

What I lack in crafty talent, I make up in friends who excel in creative crafting. For them DIY goes far beyond knitting a toaster cover. They are creating everyday items where style meets function and saving their bank account and the environment at the same time.

Take something simple thing like an old wine cork. Where I see something that already did its job, my friends see homemade bulletin boards, place card holders, stamps, candleholders and wreaths. (Yes, I’ve seen all of those objects created from corks.)

Inspired? Me too. After all, cork is a renewable, recyclable material, which means it doesn’t belong in our landfills.

However if you’re like me, you know that no matter how many wine corks you collect, you’ll likely never make a coaster, trivet or bath mat from them. But there is something very easy you can do – no talent required. Bring your corks to our stores and drop them in the handy Cork ReHarvest boxes.

Whole Foods Market partners with Cork ReHarvest to make it easy to properly dispose of natural cork at most of our stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Since 2008, the nonprofit and Rainforest Alliance-endorsed Cork ReHarvest has led the cork recycling movement in North America, helping to collect and recycle some of the 13 billion natural corks that are produced each year.

Cork recycling helps to reduce demand placed on cork plantations while maintaining the delicate ecosystem of the Mediterranean forests, and helps thousands of producers maintain a sustainable income to support their families.

Here are some commonly asked questions about the program:

Why are the cork forests so important? These forests contain some of the world's highest levels of forest biodiversity, including endemic plants and endangered species like the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Imperial Eagle and the Barbary Deer.

What do all those corks become that I turn in at your store? West of the Rockies, corks are delivered to Western Pulp, where they will be turned into recyclable wine shippers containing 10% cork. In the Midwest, corks will be sent to Yemm & Hart, which produces cork floor tiles. And on the East Coast and in the UK, corks are transported to Jelinek Cork Group, one of the oldest cork manufacturers in North America, where old corks will be made into post-consumer products.

What’s the environmental impact of this recycling program? Here’s the deal: the corks collected in our stores are sent to our distribution centers on trucks already headed that way. They're then picked up by FedEx trucks (another Cork ReHarvest partner) passing by our distribution centers en route to their destinations, which include a stop at cork recycling partners. Virtually no added carbon footprint.

Do you have more questions? Visit Cork ReHarvest’s FAQ page. Let’s raise a glass to small steps like cork recycling that can make a big difference. With Earth Day just a few days away, are you resolved to make a change to better the planet? If so, find out how you could win a year’s supply of Eco-Scale™ rated cleaning supplies from Better Life.

Have you been recycling your corks? If so, cheers to you! We’d like to hear about it.

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53 comments

Comments

Caroline says …

Any idea how many/much Whole Foods has collected to recycle since this program started a few years ago?

Megan says …

@Michele Cork Reharvest only takes true cork. Your best bet for those rubbery corks might be to offer them up to a local crafter to see if they can be re-used!

Michele says …

What about those "corks" that appear to be made out of rubbery material, not actual cork?

Megan says …

@Lisa You can find other locations that work with CorkReharvest <a href="http://www.corkforest.org/finder.php" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">on their website here</a>. They do not want people shipping corks to them because of the fuel used getting there. You could also try either offering up your corks on Freecycle (someone crafty might want them) or this other cork recycling company, <a href="http://recork.org/get-involved/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">ReCork</a>.

Megan says …

@Leslie It depends on the wine maker. Many have switched to screw-tops. Of the wines I have bought recently, it seems about 50-50 in terms of whether the wine has a traditional cork or a screw-top.

Dr. Alex says …

I just found and used this idea this week! http://lifehacker.com/5903803/turn-wine-corks-into-plant-markers Using a sharpy gave me a bit of a challenge, but other wise it seems to hold up well. I used broken/small pencils as my spike in the garden.

Kathryn Atwood says …

I tuck them under the handles of the metal lids of my pots and pans. They are a perfect fit and I can pick up the lids using those when the lids are too hot!

leslie says …

Like Dianne, I use box wine, too. But when I do open a bottle, I've noticed the corks aren't real cork any more. They feel like plastic. Are they still making cork corks?

Lisa says …

My local Whole Foods in Framingham, MA no longer has the cork recycling box at the entrance. When I asked what happened to it, and if they still took wine corks to be recycled, they explained they no longer participate as a partner. According to the website CorkReharvest.org, all 300 Whole Foods are currently participating partners. Is there a way for me to still recycle my wine corks by either mailing them to another Whole Foods or directly to CorkReharvest.org.

Diane says …

I solved the problem by drinking box wine. Sure, it's not as "classy" but there are some decent tasting ones out there and I've never been one to care what other people think. I honestly never realized all this about cork forests but it's good to know I've been innately green like this.

p says …

yes, i recycle my corks, turning them into trivets. incredibly easy to do - just use a box picture frame (or one that has some depth) and lay the corks on their side so they fit tightly beside each other. don't even need to glue any but the corner pieces. just needs a little bit of time to arrange them right and get a good fit. Voila! tables preserved and corks reused. Plus each trivet is full of lovely memories of delicious wines and joy-filled meals with friends and loved ones!

Manton Cork says …

A wonderful way to recycle your wine corks is to transform them into fun and useful at-home craft projects or as a creative school project for your student’s show &amp; tell, etc. Contact us at www.mantoncork.com for more ideas.

M Lawrence says …

Is there somplace in Winnipeg where I can drop off used corks? Is there somplace in Canada that I can mail them to?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@M LAWRENCE - I would suggest reaching out to a store in your area to see if they accept cork recycling. This offer varies between our locations so unfortunately we do not have a list of stores participating. You can find a list of store contact info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list.

Marty Crigler says …

Hi, I am updating our A-Z recycling guide. Does Whole Food still have this program going? Is it nation/world wide? Thank you, Marty

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARTY - I double checked their website and it states that the corks are accepted at all of our locations in the US and Canada!

M Akehurst says …

I live in the UK. I collected a bagful of corks for my daughter to make something with. She then changed her mind! I am loathe to just dump them! Where can I usefully take them? I live in the East of England.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MAKEHURST - Our UK store locations should take these but I would suggest reaching out to the exact store you will be visiting before you head that way. You can find a list of our UK store locations at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list/uk.

Mary Sawyer says …

Today, I called your Houston store on Kirby about taking my corks to them for your reharvest program and was told your store no longer participates in the recycle program. Do any of your other stores in Houston accept corks and if not do you know who does. I do wish to discard them because I have a large amount of corks I have been collecting and I definitely could not afford to ship them to CA. Thanks for your response. Mary

kate simpson says …

My local Whole Foods in Rockville does not recycle wine corks and also informed that Maryland Whole Foods in general do not. I find it somewhat disingenuous of Whole Fields claiming to have all these reycling efforts which only exist in selective parts of the country.

Harriet Kemper says …

Whole Foods doesn't collect corks. I've tried two stores in the Los Angeles area, and they don't want them. BTW, I installed a cork floor in my kitchen...it's beautiful.

Robin Allen says …

Is it possible to recycle cork from products such as shoes?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ROBIN - It should be only for wine corks. You can call your local store for details.

Ragnar Thoresen says …

Whole Foods in Washington DC advertises that the recycle cork but I haven't found one that will take by bag of cork yet.

Louisa cooper says …

Does your Kailua, Oahu store recycle corks?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LOUISA - Check with the store directly to see if they accept cork. It can differ between locations.

Mrs Sue Jacobs says …

I have been saving wine bottle corks for some time because I don't like throwing things away! Please advise whether you have any outlets in the UK which would take them off my hands.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MRSSUE - I would suggest reaching out to Cork ReHarvest directly to see if they know of any recycling opportunities in the UK. You can email them directly at http://www.corkforest.org/contact_us.php.

Ellen says …

my local store no longer recycles cork---is this a company-wide decision?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ELLEN - This is not a company wide decision as this would be up to the store. My other suggestion would be to reach out to your local recycling company to see if they are aware of any cork recycling programs in your area. My apologies that this has stopped.

Sophia says …

I just called the NYC Chelsea Whole Foods location and they also don't accept corks for recycling. Too bad. I'm going to email the Cork Reharvest program and ask them to stop saying that all Whole Foods participate because that seems to have not been the case for several years.

melissa kalt says …

Hello! Having trouble finding the cork recycle box at the Whole Foods in Union Square. Please tell me which location to go with corks. Thanks

Monique Edghill says …

I also collect wine corks. I am a Navy wife looking for a small hobby, so I start doing small cork designs. I would love a large batch of corks to keep it up. Where can I get large amounts of corks? Check out and like my Facebook page Creative Designs by M.E. I would appreciate any help getting corks. Thanks

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MONIQUE - I would suggest looking at the Etsy online store as I have seen large amounts of cork for sale!

fleur says …

I took a big bag of real wine corks made of cork to my local Whole Foods in Brentwood. The manager said they didn't recycle corks there. She had no idea where I should take them. I was very disappointed. Where can a Brentwood resident take them? And what do you do with them?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@FLEUR - My apologies that your local store did not recycle corks. We have a couple locations in Brentwood Los Angeles or Missouri. I would check with your local recycling center to see if they accept cork.

Susanne says …

I tried to recycle my corks in Los Gatos at the Whole Foods, but was told they no longer recycle corks. Is this true now of all Whole Foods or is there another location that will take my corks? Thanks for your help. :)

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SUSANNE - Since this is an older post, some stores might not offer cork recycling any longer as it will be up to each store. You can also reach out to your local recycling program in your city to see if they accept these if a different store in your area does not.

Paul Gianadda says …

Could you tell me the closest cork distribution center for recycled corks is located. I am looking to pick up about 60,000 or so corks. I live in western New York and my zip code is 14031. I am about 100 miles for Toronto Ontario also. Thank You, Paul

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@PAUL - I would suggest reaching out to Cork Reharvest directly to see if they know of a location. http://www.corkforest.org/contact_us.php

Kathy says …

I think this program is a really great idea, but how is cross-contamination handled? In the Washington DC locations, the cork bins are often filled with other types of waste such as bottles, cans, napkins, etc. (especially the P Street and Foggy Bottom locations). I imagine other locations nationwide face the same implementation problem. At the end of the day, if there is too much cross-contamination then is the whole batch/bag thrown out? Or what happens? Also a few ideas on avoiding this problem in the first place: 1) Why not request that customers drop their bags of corks at customer service? There aren't that many people that drop off the corks, so it should not be an enormous workload burden. This idea could run as a pilot project in some locations first. And this would allow staff to quickly remove any plastic corks, bottle caps, or other contaminants so that the end product is actually useful to the recycling partner. 2) If Whole Foods corporate is hesitant about that idea, what about having a closed lid over the hole on the cork bin that attaches with velcro so that customers actually have to lift a hinged lid to deposit their corks. And with better signage on the lid that says "corks only here." The signing needs to be more obvious than it is now, and unlike open top recycling bins, this one is for a specialized collection, so it should be a little bit "harder" to recycle the corks, so that the random napkins etc. aren't thrown in as well (people will throw away napkins where it is easy, so that would be in an open top bin, not a closed top bin). 3) Could you please use clear plastic bags instead of black trash bags inside the bins? Black trash bags signal to me that the corks are trash and probably get thrown out, not recycled, as it is difficult to see what the contents are. In other words, I think that this program had great potential and progress at the onset, but I'd really like to see Whole Foods corporate step up and see to it that the implementation at the store level is carried out well, lest it appear to customers like myself that this program is ineffective and just a customer relations ploy.

Christina says …

Does the Whole Foods store in Wichita, KS participate in the cork reharvest?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KRISTINA - Since this post is older, it's best to check with the Wichita store directly at 316.630.8484 to see if they recycle cork.

Sam Magill says …

I am curious to know if Whole Foods is still involved in collecting used wine corks at their various retail outlets.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SAM - Cork recycling will differ between stores. Check with your local store to see if they're still participating, they will be happy to help.

jenna Jennison says …

This is so exciting to find out about cork recycling. I'm a big wine drinker and collect the corks. My intention was to create a DIY project for a friends grandson. I've painted the ends in oil base paint (green and blue) and wondered if these could still be used or if the paint would create a problem in the recycling process? Either way.. I'm in and will start to partner with Whole Foods. Thank you, Jenna J

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JENNA - Since this post is a bit older, I would check with your local store first to make sure they are still accepting corks for recycling. I would suggest reaching out to Cork ReHarvest at http://www.corkforest.org/contact/ for more info about painted corks.

Myrna says …

Does Whole Foods still collect wine corks? Can they be dropped off at all locations or just some? Where do I find a list of stores that accept the corks? Thank you!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MYRNA - Since this post is a little older, it will differ between stores. Check with your local store to see if they accept the corks.

Gwen Jackson says …

Hi - I have several wone boxes full of corks. Do I jsut take them to the Whole Foods Market in my area - Danbury, CT and hand them off? Not seeing exactly how to do this.

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