Corks Can Live Long After the Wine Is Gone

September 8th, 2017

Being an ecologically minded consumer just isn’t about the vineyard. It seems that the wine industry is betting on consumers wanting and appreciating grapes grown in a prescribed manner that allows for designations such as: sustainable, Biodynamic, green, organic or natural.

As if grapes aren’t the only component of winemaking to come under the long arm of the “wine police”, the winery gets special attention in such things as their use of renewable energy (wind and solar), recycling water, fermentation additives and closures; yes closures.

Have you ever thought: What is the after-life of a cork? Well there is one. There is a whole new industry that has cropped up in America that recycles, repurposes and otherwise disposes of used cork. You thought you were helping the planet by throwing your used corks in that glass jar only to occasionally look through them to remember that special wine.

Cork re-purposing is bucking a recycling trend. In an article re-published in “Salon”, author Anna Sanford writes that recycling in California is down approximately 5 percentage points and recycling centers are closing primarily since recycled materials such as plastic bottles are less valuable due to the price of oil–plastic is a derivative of oil. But recycled cork is booming. One organization that is focused on repurposing cork for the good of the planet is a non-profit forestry organization-Cork Forest Conservation Alliance, (CFCA) which operates Cork ReHarvest.

Cork is an interesting product because a tree is never cut down for the cork. Corks are made from the bark, which is hand harvested, every 9-11 years. The trees can be harvested for up to 150 years, with no harm to the tree. The cork tree is from the oak family, (Quercus suber) so the cork will impart some of the same characteristics as does an oak barrel. From an environmental viewpoint, the carbon footprint to produce a cork is significantly less than that to produce a metal screw caps or plastic plug closure for wine. With convenient recycling methods for the consumer, the carbon footprint for re-purposing used wine corks, through the Cork ReHarvest program is virtually zero. Also, there are no active recycling programs for screw caps or plastic plugs in the U.S.

There are 13 billion wine corks produced each year, with 51% of the wine corks coming from Portugal and 30% coming from Spain. Cork is natural, non-toxic, biodegradable and is a totally renewable product for the wine industry.

The same cannot be said for aluminum screw caps and plastic closures. In making a cork for a bottle of wine there are approximately 26 steps and in an environmental study by “The Academic Wino”, cork is the hands down best closure from an ecological perspective. Life Cycle Assessment, (LCA) studies show that each cork sequesters 9g of CO2.

According to Wikipedia, a carbon footprint study concluded that cork is the most environmentally friendly wine stopper in comparison to metal or plastic. The Corticeira Amorim study, (“Analysis of the life cycle of Cork, Aluminum and Plastic Wine Closures”), was developed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, following ISO 14040 standards. Results concluded, relative to the emission of greenhouse gases, each plastic stopper released 10 times more CO2, while an aluminum screw cap releases 26 times more CO2 than does a cork stopper in the manufacturing process. The 26 steps, in analyzing the carbon footprint, pertains to the manufacture of cork and includes getting it to the winery.

As alluded to earlier, there are two major players in the relative new industry of repurposing cork-Cork ReHarvest which is a non-profit 501c3 and ReCork. I came across Cork ReHarvest while at a Whole Foods store and saw a used cork collection box. I called The Cork Quality Council in Sonoma, CA to find out what this was all about. The Executive Director of the organization is Peter Weber. Peter confirmed there are two large groups that are active in aggregating used corks through relationships with various retail, hospitality and winery locations. “There are probably a dozen or so smaller organizations that collect used corks for various specialty applications,” Peter commented.

Cork ReHarvest being a non-profit uses the used corks they collect for educational programs to build awareness of the cork forests, to promote cork applications (wine closures) and to explain the ecological benefits of cork-wine being one application. The recycling of cork happens rather quickly. ReHarvest reports, approximately 98% of wine bought is consumed within 48 hours. That means corks can come back into the recycled system quickly.

Cork ReHarvest partners with approximately 1,500 collection centers. “In addition to Whole Foods, there are major restaurants such as Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Caesars Palace who support our recycling program along with major wineries who send used corks to us for recycling; we prefer to call it repurposing,” says Patrick Spencer of Cork ReHarvest whose offices are in Salem, Oregon. “We sell collected corks to 6 recycling partners in the U.S. who then distribute them to customers only in the U.S.” To a winemaker, a grade “Triple A” cork can cost $1.00 to $1.50 each. A recycler will sell these used corks for approximately $0.09 each in 1,000 quantities.

The question remaining: What are used corks good for? Some recycled cork finds its way into concrete due to its insulation properties. The recycled paper industry uses ground-up cork combined with reconstituted paper to make packing material. The sports and fishing industry uses reprocessed cork for bobbers and grips, dart boards and household items such as trivets. The building industry uses recycled cork for floor underpayments. Even those sandals you like might have a cork sole liner.

Four times each year the non-profit Cork Forest Conservation Alliance conducts eco-tours to 3 of Spain’s cork forest regions to give travelers a total emersion in the culture, food, wine and forestry of these remarkable forests,

Cork is the environment friendly gift that keeps on giving; it has a life after the wine is gone.

Flow – Why Playing Is the Best Way to Learn

September 8th, 2017

Flow. It conjures up images of air flow, the flow of water, hair flowing in the wind.

Yet, it is also an apt description in psychology for a state of mind we constantly aspire to. Though it is not widely known, flow proves psychologically that playing games is one of the best ways of learning things.

What is Flow?

Flow refers to the ideal mental state in which we perform tasks. When we experience flow, we become absorbed by the activity. Time becomes dilated; we feel as though a minute has passed when in fact it is an hour. We feel focused, resolute, a sense of joy and satisfaction upon completing it.

Sounds familiar? Simply, it is when we are experiencing a ‘hot streak’, being ‘in the zone’ or why time flies when we do something we love.

Flow was first discovered by psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi in 1975. Over the years, it gained increasing popularity as more people relate to it. Since then, it has become an influential term in psychology, educational theory, organisational theory and even management.

The truth is, flow is not unique. It has been recognized time and again throughout history and in different locations. For instance, Wikipedia states that flow has been used in many Asian religions. In Buddhism and Taoism, ancient teachings refer to wu wei or action of inaction, while in Hinduism, the Bhagavad-Gita alludes to a similar mental thinking.

States of Mind

According to Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi (1989), there are 6 factors that contribute to achieving flow.

- Intense and focused concentration at that present moment

- Merging of action and awareness

- A loss of reflective self-consciousness

- A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity

- Distortion of time

- Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

Later studies added to these. For instance, psychologist Cherry says that there are 3 other key factors, namely:

- Immediate feedback

- Feeling that you have the potential to succeed

- Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible

Another study by Schaffer (2013) presented 7 conditions required to enter a state of flow. As we approach a task, we ought to:

- Know what to do

- Know how to do it

- Know how well you are doing

- Know where to go

- Have high perceived challenges

- Have high perceived skills

- Have freedom from distractions

All in all, flow is best summed up as having these requirements. These mental states allows us to have the most enjoyable experience when performing the task.

- Be involved in an activity with goals and progress that are clearly visible. This helps to create direction and structure.

- Feedback should be clear, immediate and direct. This allows us to have a clear sense of how we are doing. We can then adjust our work accordingly to achieve the desired performance.

- There must be a balance between difficulty and ability to complete the task. You should feel that while it is a challenge, it is still something that can be completed, instead of being impossible.

In essence, we see a satisfyingly challenging task. We believe we are skillful enough to build it. We are motivated to work hard and persevere on. We see some feedback from us completing a part of it. We are spurred by our success, becoming more motivated.

Finally, at the end of it, we gain high levels of satisfaction and gratification from our accomplishment. We look back at wondrous surprise at how we have spent the whole afternoon playing with it, while simultaneously improving our concentration and cognitive abilities.

Flowing Through Educational Games

Let us take a closer look at how flow relates to educational games and learning. Looking at the states of flow, we see that learning games fulfill many of the requirements of flow.

Focus and concentration while performing the task

The Space Race Ace requires a high degree of concentration to build the track correctly in a pleasing way. It is easy for children to lose concentration, but they are motivated by every portion that they finish.

A sense of personal agency over the activity

Especially prevalent among children, they intuitively understand that there is a big world out there and they have little control over it. Educational games like the Solaris Solar Kit comes with detailed instructions and modular pieces, allowing them to build and experiment while not overwhelming them with details.

Immediate feedback

Most educational games provide some form of instant feedback. For instance, when the Balance Tower topples, children will know that they have made a mistake immediately. Compare this to tests which have (very) delayed feedback.

Have high perceived challenge and skills

Perhaps more so than any other learning methods, educational games provide a healthy balance of challenge and skill. The games are carefully designed and playtested.

Also, one advantage games have is that you can modify the challenge easily. Ad hoc vocabulary games are flexible; you can give the other player a chance if their skill is weaker, while ramping the challenge up when they get better at it.

Group Flow

Flow is important is social psychology and sociology too. Group flow is a form of positive feedback, where flow achieved by one person is induced into another and another, until the entire group enters flow.

Groups become more cohesive, cooperative, argue less, work faster and achieve greater results. We have all seen group flow when an orchestra plays as one soul, or when a sports team appear to be psychic.

This form of group learning can be achieved through games as well. Many organizations are using serious games or learning games for employees’ training and motivation. With group flow, the team’s positive energy bounces off each other and better results are achieved.

Within your work team or family, you can try some simple educational games to achieve group flow. Games like Balance Chairs create a positive atmosphere and helps to bond groups. This positive attitude cannot be understated as it can be sustained even through more serious tasks.

Master of Flow

We hope you see the value of fun games in aiding education and development now.

Flow induces the belief that we are capable of overcoming great challenges. We are more motivated and persevere at the task. In doing so, we build on a small success to achieve greater successes.

Hence, playing allows us to achieve flow more easily. In doing so, we learn more and are motivated to play more, and learn more, and play more, and… You get the idea!