The cork is mightier than the sword: natural wine corks remain reliably recyclable despite China's restrictive recycling legislation.

Despite the chaos-inducing effects of National Sword on recycling in North America, natural cork remains a reliably recyclable, eco-friendly material.

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Since its inception in January 2018, National Sword has thrown a major spanner into the works of North America’s recycling systems. If you’re thinking ‘wait, what on earth is National Sword?’ it's the most important piece of legislation in American recycling right now. And it's not even American. It’s a name worthy of a Nixon era military operation, but in fact ‘National Sword’ is a policy of the Chinese government, and its target or enemy isn’t another state or a guerilla group. Instead, it aims a broad-sword swipe at something that, on the face of it, might seem far more innocuous: recyclable waste. But what do China's policies on recycling have to do with you? Far more than you might think.

You’re a good citizen. When you’re done drinking your PBR on a Friday evening you chuck your empty can(s) in the blue bin. From there you leave them on the curb, and on recycling day a truck comes along to wake you up at 7am while it clunks and roars its way down the street, whisking your empties away, along with the rest of your recycling. To most, it’s anybody’s guess what happens to the paper, plastic and metal from there on. We might have some vague notion that they’re sorted and then melted or pulverized in one way or another to make a new material. Hey presto, just like that!? Not quite.

What you might not know, is that recycling is an industry (yup, it’s a money-maker like anything else) that runs partially on international trade. For decades, millions upon millions of tons of our recycling has been shipped off to China, where it was processed and used to create new products. That was until July 2017 when the Chinese government introduced National Sword, a policy that would ban the import of 24 types of scrap including mixed paper and mixed plastics, and place incredibly strict contamination standards on others. Anything being brought into the country would have to be 0.5% contaminated, an incredibly difficult goal to hit for recycling companies collecting curb-side materials that are 15%-25% contaminated.

Since the policy kicked in on January 1, 2018 it’s made a major impact on the recycling industry here at home. Some towns and cities have had to send their recycling to incinerators, while others have shut down recycling programs entirely or stockpile huge amounts of recyclables while they search for alternative markets at home and in other countries abroad. 

So how does this affect you? National Sword is NOT reason to abandon your recycling practices. If anything, this is a time at which we should be putting in more effort to ensure we’re playing our part at the front end of the recycling system effectively. Take the time to remind yourself what is and isn’t accepted according to your local recycling program (this information is readily available all over the continent, all it takes is a quick search). Ensure that the containers you recycle are clean, so as not to contaminate entire batches of materials. Also ensure you’re not trying to recycle things that aren’t recyclable just because it feels like they should be. For example, it might feel intuitive to put your pizza box in the recycling, but if it's covered in grease and dipping sauce it’s just going to slow down the sorting process and run the risk of contaminating the rest of the recyclable cardboard.  


In the face of uncertainty it always helps to have at least one thing you know you can rely on. For recycling in North America, natural wine corks are exactly that. At ReCORK we take care of the entire cork recycling process. From collecting corks with the help of our Collections Partners, to grinding them down and molding them into new components for consumer products, we maintain control of the corks every step of the way. This means you can rest assured that your corks won’t end up in an incinerator or landfill. Instead, they’ll go straight into products like SOLE recycled cork flips, Performance footbeds, and the ReCORK 198* Block. 

For us, cork is far too exciting a material to let out of our grasp. You keep sending us your corks, and we’ll keep maximizing their potential as a new material that can effectively replace petroleum-based foams and plastics.