Recycled wine corks get new life as stylish footwear

ReCork 2 new shoes

We’re able to recycle more things now than ever before. Entrepreneurs continue to come up with innovative processes that promise to keep expanding the list.

The latest recycling innovation is a new Kickstarter campaign I recently found called “ReCORK: Imagine Carbon Negative Footwear”. ReCORK promises stylish footwear for men and women made from recycled natural wine corks.

Around 1.3 billion wine corks are used in the U.S. each year. The large majority of these end up in landfills. ReCORK, North America’s largest and only industrial natural cork recycling service founded in 2008 in Napa, California, is making a dent in diverting this usable material from landfills.

Natural cork is one of the most sustainable raw materials in the world. Recyclable and biodegradable, the cork is actually the oak cork tree’s bark. A portion of each tree’s bark is harvested every nine years, ensuring the health of the cork oak forest. And the more regularly the cork is harvested, the more the forest is sustained.

The ReCORK initiative is sponsored by parent company SOLE, a manufacturing company that produces custom footbeds and footwear.

“We have a love affair with cork,” said Mike Baker, founder and CEO of SOLE and a Director of ReCORK. It’s a versatile, unique and interesting material, he said.

Cork has been used as a flooring application, as insulation, for handbags and iPad covers, even shower curtains!

In fabric form, it’s insulating, lightweight, cushioning and can have a broad range of humidity and moisture retention, said Baker.

ReCORK has built a network of 1,800 partners, encompassing vineyards, restaurants, tasting rooms and major wine providers such as MGM Grand, BevMo! and American Airlines. ReCORK’s goal is to recycle 100 million discarded wine corks by 2015. Over the past four years they’ve collected more than 45 million of them.

Part of cork’s remarkability lies in its contribution to the environment.

A study by the World Wildlife Fund outlined cork’s role as critical habitat for endangered species, an important source of income for thousands of people, a key to maintaining forest biodiversity and watersheds, soil health and preventing erosion and desertification. It also showed that sustainably harvesting the cork tree extends the life and increases the carbon sink in the tree.

ReCORK has planted over 8,000 cork oak trees to date

ReCORK has planted over 8,000 cork oak trees to date, which offset the company’s collection and footwear production processes

SOLE and ReCORK are committed to furthering the sustainability of this natural resource. Sustainability is at the core of their thinking and practices.

Each ReCORK shoe includes a 100 percent recycled cork footbed and a recycled cork midsole. Their packaging is 100 percent recycled (though not recyclable). And they participate in a tree planting initiative.

So far, ReCORK has helped plant 8,000 new cork oak trees in the Mediterranean. A carbon auditing organization has verified that this program will more than offset the C02 associated with the company’s cork collection and footwear production, resulting in a carbon negative operation.

It’s all about awareness about cork, said Baker.

“It’s innovative that we’ve been able to eliminate the foams altogether but (still) have a shoe that performs and wears very well,” he said. “Cork is a legitimate substitute for a petroleum-based product, and,” said Baker, “it can be a mass market product.”

“(It) inspires possibilities about what can be done.”

ReCORK’s Kickstarter campaign runs until Thanksgiving Day (November 28th). To learn more or to participate in the campaign, go to.

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