Sustainable Materials: Focus on Cork

Cork: Versatile and Renewable

I don’t think we appreciate cork enough.  It is an amazing material: light, impermeable to gasses and liquids, elastic, compressible, fireproof,  and resistant to abrasion. It is already used to make a wide variety of products including insulation, furniture, floors, walls, and shoes, but with a little imagination, it could probably be applied to many other uses…perhaps in the landscape?

According to ReCORK America, there are 13 billion natural cork wine stoppers sold in the world market each year, most of which end up in the landfill.  It takes approximately 300,000 wine corks to yield a ton of cork for recycling into new product.

Cork: Livelihood and Habitat

Mediterranean cork oak forests are a vital source of income for over 100,000 people.  A skilled practice that has been passed on from one generation to the next, the harvesting of cork involves removing the outer bark of the tree and then allowing it to regenerate and produce another harvest every 9-12 years. A tree will produce cork for over 200 years.  The cork trees are also part of a rich ecosystem that provides a vital link for migrating birds and supports wildlife like the Iberian lynx, imperial eagle, and Barbary Deer.

As alternative wine stoppers become more popular, these cork oak forests are in danger of being abandoned, bringing an end to an industry that successfully balances the economic benefit of people with the health and protection of the forests. More information on Cork Oak Forests.

Take Action

Whole Foods Market announced on April 6 that it is implementing a company-wide wine cork recycling program that will be available throughout its 292 store locations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. In partnership with Cork ReHarvest, Whole Foods will set up designated drop boxes for recycling wine corks in its stores. Wine corks can be made into flooring tiles, building insulation, footwear, automotive gaskets, bulletin boards, packaging materials, soil conditioner and sports equipment.

To learn more about other sustainably harvested materials check out:

The Forest Stewardship Council and The US Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide

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