Cork recycling program in downtown Putnam

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Mar. 14, 2011
Rachel Gavini with bottles that have had their corks removed and recycled. Photos by Denise Coffey.
Rachel Gavini with bottles that have had their corks removed and recycled. Photos by Denise Coffey.

“Every little bit helps” is an optimistic frame of mind when it comes to everything from weight loss to recycling. And to prove how true it can be, Rachel Gavini of Pangaea Wine Bar in Putnam displays a wine carton-turned-recycling bin at the foot of the bar just inside the entryway. It turns out that natural cork is recyclable and is used in a variety of products, from cork tile floors to shipping containers and footwear products.

“I started reading about recycling cork and found Cork ReHarvest,” Gavini said. Cork ReHarvest is a nonprofit environmental organization that encourages cork recycling. When she called the organization, they referred her to Whole Foods Market in Boston. Whole Foods Market has a company-wide cork recycling program to support its partnership with Cork ReHarvest. Recently, Gavini turned in two big boxes worth of corks.

Pangaea offers 48 different wines by the glass. All 48 bottles are housed in a WineStation, a wine dispensing system that needs no cork once the bottle has been opened. Gavini estimates that she'll go through 48 bottles three times a week, at least. The corks accumulate fast.

Add to that the street-wide effort of The Courthouse Restaurant, 85 Main Street, and Bella’s to recycle their corks, as well as Gavini’s invitation to the community to bring in their corks, and her recycling efforts are adding up.

“But they have to be natural cork,” she said. No synthetic corks are accepted.

It used to be that all wines were stopped with cork. But when cork taint became a problem, wineries began looking for other closure methods. Cork taint is a broad term referring to spoilage of wine. Although a variety of factors can cause it, including improper storage and handling, cork has usually been blamed as the culprit. As a result, screw caps, called stelvin closures, and plastic corks began to take hold in the wine industry.

Gavini said that cork taint has always been a problem because of the bacteria sometimes found in cork. The key is ensuring the cleanliness of the bottling facility, Gavini said.

Not all of the wines served at Pangaea come with cork closures. Gavini still prefers cork. The benefits outweigh the drawbacks, she said. For one thing, cork is a natural material. It's renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. It comes from the bark of cork oaks in the Mediterranean. The bark is harvested every nine years, without damage to the trees. Thousands of families make their livelihood from harvesting cork bark.

Two boxes full of cork may seem like a drop in the bucket, but it's in keeping with the idea behind the Gavini's name for the wine bar: Pangaea. The word is from the Greek and it means “entire earth.” So it’s fitting to think that bark from a tree in Portugal can end up in a bottle of wine in Putnam. Or that it can go from Main Street, USA to the floor of a house in Texas, or made into footwear sold in New Zealand.

Perhaps that's what the Gavinis meant with their bar’s motto: “A world of wine in your glass.”

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