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National Restaurant Association - Uncork a new form of recycling

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Uncork a new form of recycling

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Restaurants are learning there’s more to recycle from a wine bottle than the glass.

A handful are participating in programs that turn corks from emptied bottles into footwear, floor tiles, shipping cartons and other high-durability goods.

The pioneers say the effort is a highly visible way of demonstrating an establishment’s commitment to conservation. They also use it to enlist patrons in restaurants’ green efforts, hopefully strengthening a connection.

Among them: National Restaurant Association member Houlihan’s Restaurants Inc. The casual-dining company started recycling corks last year at its four J. Gilbert’s steakhouses and nine seafood grills, which use the names Chequer’s, Devon, Bristol and Braxton.

Customer feedback has been extremely positive, says Jen Gulvik, vice president of marketing, Houlihan's.

The corks go into a bin that customers are invited to help fill with stoppers from wine they drank at home. When a bin is full, the restaurant calls representatives of a program called ReCork. They pick up the stoppers and convert them into the soles of sandals. Since October, Houihan’s has recycled enough corks to sole 2,767 pairs of sandals.

The restaurants use the program as an opportunity to communicate with patrons, e-mailing reminders to bring their corks on the next visit. Sometimes they offer dollar discounts for every cork, up to $20.

The program has been such a hit that Houlihan’s intends to roll it into its 90-unit namesake chain. “All we have to do is find a place to put the bins,” Gulvik says.

Some of the in-store eateries operated by Whole Foods also collect the plugs. They also invite patrons to bring back corks from bottles they’ve consumed at home.

Whole Foods' recycling partner is Cork ReHarvest, which channels the recovered corks to a variety of second lives, including filler for wine shipping cartons.

All in all, “it’s a pretty simple premise,” Gulvik says.

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