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A fistful of cork

Kirjoittanut: Irene Lai - tiimistä SYNTRE.

Esseen tyyppi: Akateeminen essee / 3 esseepistettä.
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 6 minuuttia.

Written by Irene Lai and Lucas Alvim




The first thought that we could have when we think of cork is surely related to wine and fancy bottles. Cork is actually more than that and has a lot of potential. It could be used in so many unexpected and inventive ways since it is in fact extremely versatile and sustainable. In fact, it is a natural product that is environmentally friendly, carbon positive, biodegradable and renewable. It is made from the bark of the Quercus suber or rather the cork oak tree and it is a material that is easy to recycle. Plus, cork oak forests prevent desertification in the areas of Portugal and Spain, where it grows naturally. Most of the cork that we use in and around our homes is grown from cork oak forests in that area of Western Mediterranean countries, plus smaller percentages for Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, and France. Summing up, growing cork oak trees has been an eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable activity for hundreds of years.
Amorim Cork is a firm that gives an inspiring example of its amazing sustainable experience. Amorim is the world’s largest cork producer and one of the most dynamic Portuguese multinationals. Thanks to them and to that event I got to know and to think of the wonderful, varied life that only cork can have, so in this essay I will write about it and this product’s many-sided applications.  



First, what is cork? 


As we said, cork is the bark of the Cork Oak tree. Don Pierre Pérignon discovers that it was the ideal material with which to seal his wines from the famous Champagne region. This was the moment, during 17th century in France, that marks the beginning of industrialization of cork, as it played a decisive role in the affirmation of this precious wine. From bark to bottle, the cork harvest has been mostly carried out by skilled workers who pass down their knowledge from generation to generation and is the first step in a transformation process where nothing gets wasted. If the concern goes to the trees, it is good to say that the procedure of extracting cork does not require cutting down the cork oaks and, actually, it aids in their renewal. The cork industry contributes to the preservation of forests and the inhabitants that rely on them, making the continuation of the cork oak forest viable. In fact, according to a recent prediction, only in Portugal, home to the largest cork oak forest in the world, will there be enough cork that can be harvested to satisfy market demand for the next 100 years. The most common application is to use it as cork stoppers all over the world, but it is entirely recyclable and reusable, since it has so many properties.
Let’s investigate its characteristics:  

  • Soundproofing 
  • Thermal insulation 
  • Liquid and gas proof 
  • Resistant to elevated temperatures 
  • Friction resistant 
  • 100% natural, reusable, and recyclable 
  • Soft to the touch 
  • Elastic and compressible 
  • Lightweight and buoyancy 
  • Hypoallergenic 

After all that, cork as a unique product had already been noticed centuries ago when it had been chosen to be the perfect cork stoppers for wine and yet it had not been found a better substitute. Why is that? Certainly because of every mentioned characteristic, but additionally cork has also beneficial impact to wine since it allows a tiny amount of oxygen to permeate into the liquid in the bottle after sealing. 



Other applications 


First, nothing from the cork oak is wasted; each of its parts serves an ecological or commercial purpose. The cork oak’s fruit, the acorn, is utilized for animal feed and the production of culinary oils in addition to helping the species spread; the leaves are used as a natural fertilizer and again as animal feed; firewood and charcoal are produced from tree trimmings and dead or dying trees, while chemical and cosmetic items are made from the tannins and natural acids found in tree wood. Coming back to cork stoppers now, they are a 100 percent natural product that does not contaminate the environment if it is tossed in the trash, but it would be a wasted resource. Recycled cork may not be used for stoppers ever again, but it may be used for a variety of other things, including covers, insulation, bulletin boards, high-performance kayaks, badminton rackets, tennis and cricket balls, parts for cars and airplanes, design and fashion products, and a lot more.
Here are some other examples of products that sometime just a fistful of cork can be turned into: 

  • Insulation panels 
  • Insulating flooring 
  • Cork fabric 
  • Shoemaking materials 
  • Designer objects 
  • Flooring for sports 
  • Vibration control joints 
  • Cork for insulation 
  • Seals  



Environmental advantages of the usage of cork 


Cork is more than a great natural material for building or sealing alcoholic drinks. It helps the environment. Cork trees are harvested and not cut down, the cork stoppers are made from the bark of a cork oak tree, not from the tree itself, preserving the tree. The bark is harvested from the tree between every 9-12 years, and it takes approximately 25years to be able to harvest it for the first time. Is completely renewable and sustainable and if harvested in the right way, it does not harm the tree. Each time that its harvested, the cork bark regenerates itself, and in that process it absorbs CO2, and cork trees live between 100 and 300 years. So the harvesting of cork assists in the absorption of CO2 which is a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. In fact, harvested cork trees absorb 3to5 times more CO2 than non-harvested trees so harvesting cork is making our planet a better place for us.
In Portugal alone cork oak trees help to offset 10 million tons of carbon every year, and cork oak trees also are important producers of oxygen. Cork biodegrades completely and it can be easily recycled without producing toxic residues. Cork stoppers are produced by punching out of strips of cork bark while the production of screw caps and plastic stoppers involves higher non-renewable energy consumption and the production of toxic waste by the product(“Good for the enviroment”,Why 100%cork) . Over 200 animal species and 135 plant species, some endangered find their preferred habitat in the cork oak forest. Because it’s biologically rich and varied, but also extremely vulnerable, the cork oak forest is one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, on par with Amazonia and the African Savanna(Amorim cork). The cork oak trees also act as a protective barrier against forest fires and heat due to its weak combustion.
The cork industry is a vital source of employment for those rural regions, cork oak woodland provides employment and guarantees the survival of those local communities, it has been estimated that more than 100 thousand people in the seven Mediterranean cork-producing counties depend directly and indirectly on the cork economy. There can be also produced electricity from corks dust, by using it as biomass, so it produces green energy with neutral C0
2 emission, in fact, a large number of cork transformation factories use this to generate a big part of the electricity that the factory uses.(National geographic, 2018).  So cork is a 2in1, it is a natural and sustainable quality material, that helps prevent climate change, so is great that each day cork is used for more things. Cork is even entering the fashion world, with handbags, hats, wallets, coasters, matts, even yoga practicing products such as yoga matt, pillows, matt bag and yoga block in different shapes and size, and they are so grate as they are so light and of quality. 





The ideal growing conditions for the cork oak are sandy, chalk-free soils with low nitrogen and phosphorus, high potassium, and pH from 4.8 to 7. Rainfall of between 400-800mm per year, temperature from -5C to 40C, and an altitude in between 100-300meters. The oldest and biggest cork oak tree alive was planted in 1783 in Alentejo (South of Portugal), it is over 14 meters tall and 4,15meters wide. In 2018 was voted by Whistler Tree representing Portugal as the European tree of the year. Since 1820 it has been harvested over 20 times and in 1991 produced over 1200kg of cork, which is more than most cork oak trees produce in a lifetime. In each cork harvest, it is possible to extract between 40-60kg per tree. The yearly cork production is 200 thousand tons per year and about 50% comes from Portugal. Each tone of cork can provide an average of 66700 cork stoppers. Around a 13million cork stoppers are produced worldwide per year. It’s estimated that there is 2.1 million hectares of cork oak forest in the world, and about one-third (approximately 730,000 hectares) is situated in Portugal which represents 22%of the national forest. (Amorim – Curiosities)  





The desire to protect the environment is one of the most crucial motivations for recycling. The CO2 atoms that the cork oak’s bark has trapped in are absorbed by cork stoppers. They contribute to global warming if they decompose or are burned because they release CO2 into the atmosphere. Cork’s ability to retain CO2 can be increased through recycling. Around 1.07 tons of CO2 are stored in one ton of cork stoppers; once recycled, this capacity is guaranteed ad infinitum because there is no limit to the amount of time this raw material can be used again. On the other hand, by recycling discarded cork stoppers, you may help make raw materials more useful and lower the cost of making other items with a high added value. 





Amorim Cork – Sustainability performance: reports and studies. https://www.amorimcork.com/en/sustainability/sustainability-performance-reports-and-studies/twin-top-evo-stopper-carbon-footprint/383/. Read 05.10.2022 

Amorim cork Sustainability – Amorim Cork Read 16/10/2022 

Amorim Curiosities – Cork – Corticeira Amorim, world’s biggest cork processing group Read 16/10/2022 

“Good for the enviroment”,Why 100%cork Good for the Environment – 100% Cork | Produced by Nature. Preferred by Winemakers (100percentcork.org) Read 16/10/2022 

National geographi, 2018, “Conhece estes beneficios da cortiça? Conhece Estes Benefícios da Cortiça? | National Geographic (natgeo.pt) Read 16/10/2022 

Reggev, K. A Crash Course on Cork: The Eco-Friendly Material That’s Popping Up Everywhere, https://www.dwell.com/article/what-is-cork-pros-cons-19fffbcc. Read 12.10.2022  

“SUG_HERO – Metaforme – Le mille vite di uno straordinario dono della natura, il sughero”, event in Barolo, Italy. Visited 03.06.2022 

Tiny Eco Home Life, Is cork sustainable or is it bad for the environment? 2022. https://www.tinyecohomelife.com/is-cork-environmentally-friendly. Read 09.09.2022 




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