Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cork and Thinking Differently

Cork comes from the thick, spongy bark of the cork oak tree. Slabs of bark are hand harvested from the trees 12 times in their 250-year lifetime. In addition to wine stoppers, bulletin boards and fishing rod handles, this renewable resource can be used for flooring and ground into concrete mixtures.

During dinner the other night, some friends and I debated about what to do with the wine cork. The bottle obviously belonged in the recycling bin. But the cork? Compost or trash?

Now this certainly isn’t the first bottle of wine that’s passed through my house. But recently, I’ve become even more vigilant about practicing “reduce, reuse, recycle,” which prompted the cork question.

This heightened awareness probably stems from San Francisco’s new law that requires everyone in the City to recycle and compost. Yes, you read that right. A law.

Now exactly who is going to make sure everyone’s banana peels go into the green (compost) bin instead of the black (trash) bin is another question. Perhaps we can draw from the staff that enforces the law stating that all pets kept outdoors must have access to clean drinking water at all times.

San Francisco has a number of unenforceable mandates that invite ridicule. Yet sometimes there’s a smart idea wrapped inside that legislative language, which leaves me conflicted. I admire the way our city often sticks its neck out and tries a new approach to the same issues bedeviling everyone else. Because it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon once someone else builds it. Or laugh at their construction if it fails. What’s hard is to be the one with the blueprint—and the guts to implement it.

So looking at this latest law, you can see the benefit in its intention to shift 75% of the City’s waste into composting and recycling programs by next year, leading up to the ultimate goal of zero waste by 2020. It’s a cheap and effective way to be eco-friendly. And recycling and composting programs can be set up quickly, making them a solution we can implement now.

Like I said, great idea. But a law?

Could we maybe have considered using education instead of legislation? Tried creating something that makes composting and recycling cool? Like hilarious videos on YouTube that get passed from friend to friend. An online invitation to upload funny or clever things—animation, songs, photos, poetry, artwork, whatever—that teach people how to create zero waste. Visits from celebrities to schools that achieve the best record of recycling and composting throughout the school year. That type of thing.

If we’ll take our willingness to think differently a step further, we might figure out how to use peer pressure instead of police pressure to achieve the same goals. Get people involved and excited in something that benefits us all. Compel them to comply with a motivating message instead of a toothless law.

Maybe that’s a way we can get this City to work better. Just a thought.

Oh, and that wine cork? It goes in the trash. At least for now. We have until 2020 for someone to think differently about how it can be collected and distributed to the flooring and cement manufacturers that can reuse it.


  1. Interesting... law -VS- education. Perhaps by making the compost/recycling law, your city will actually create more public awareness throughout the world. Nothing says "News Worthy" more than a bit of Controversy! Great article once again, you keep setting the bar a bit higher with each post! -Angelina

  2. A law! Now that one has my head spinning… I like your idea about getting people involved by uploading videos or art. Remember way back... when littering was a common occurrence? We were in grade school and got excited about making our world a nicer and cleaner place to live in. We drew pictures of what a ‘litter-bug’ looked like and took them home to our folks. It changed an older generation over night. Littering will get you a fine in most states but it’s not a law. Oh, all my wine corks get reused at least one more time… my bird turns them into confetti.

  3. Ah yes, the litter-bug. I also remember the campaign to get people to stop running water while they were brushing their teeth. And this was all in the time before the Internet. Think of what we could do now with a little ingenuity.

    I like the idea of Keena shredding corks. Perhaps you can create a one-bird recycling facility out of your home.