It is known as the closure of wine and champagne bottles and as a floor covering: cork is a popular material that has been used by people since ancient times. for pinboards, wallpaper, as a sealing material and insulating material: the natural product has several properties and is therefore used in many areas.
Cork products have also become more popular in the fashion industry in recent years and are produced, for example, as a cruelty-free alternative to leather. the fashion trend is promoted as particularly climate-friendly for nature and is preferred by people who are interested in environmental protection. but does this really apply to cork production or do the manufacturers practice greenwashing? is cork sustainable? ?
Popular natural product: can cork be produced sustainably?
Bags, hats, wallets and shoes: cork is very popular in the fashion industry due to its versatility and was already used in ancient rome to insulate sandals. the bark consists of millions of closely packed dead cells. this makes the material elastic and strong at the same time. suberin and waxes are also stored in these cells, which have a water-repellent character and make cork more resistant. and that's not all: the bark of the cork oak is light, flame-retardant and insulates against cold and heat. products made from the material can live for a long time and are very easy to care for. vegan and sustainable fashion manufacturers in particular use cork because it is a natural and renewable raw material. but just because something grows on a tree doesn't automatically mean that the manufacturing process has to be good for the environment. in this article we analyze the facts and examine the sustainability of cork and the cork industry.
The origin of cork
Cork is the bark of the cork oak, a tree that grows mainly in the mediterranean region and predominantly in portugal. the bark of this oak has been used for a wide variety of products for several centuries. the crucial thing when harvesting cork bark is that the trees do not have to be felled. the oaks are simply peeled without damaging the tree. only a third is scraped off per tree, otherwise the cork oak will dry out. peeling off the bark also requires great sensitivity and is done very carefully so as not to injure the oak. proper removal of cork bark is actually good for the ecosystem of cork oak forests. after the bark is harvested, the trunk draws even more co2 from the environment than an unpeeled cork oak. after removal, the bark slowly grows back over time and can be peeled again after about 10 years.
The origin of cork is therefore sustainable because it is a plant-based product that grows back after being peeled and therefore does not harm the cork oak or nature.
From cork to cork products: processing
After the harvest, the raw material continues to be processed. peeled directly from the cork oak, the bark cannot yet be used in industry. first, the resins are removed from the bark using steam, which are later used as binding agents. the peeled pieces are then sorted according to quality and dried for at least six months. for further processing, they are boiled in a water bath for an hour, during which the cork becomes supple and tannins and insects are rinsed out. after cooking, the cork must dry again in air-conditioned, dark depots for at least three weeks. cork, which has a particularly uniform structure, is processed into high-quality corks for sparkling wine and wine bottles. around 25 billion bottle corks are produced every year. around 75 percent of the cork remains as waste. these residues are ground into fine cork granules and glued together with binding agents. the positive thing here is that nothing is thrown away during the production of corks. everything that is left of the bark is further processed in other areas, which further strengthens the sustainable nature of the natural product.
Cork oak: a tree with a strong ecological balance
Not only is the cultivation and processing of cork particularly environmentally friendly, the protection of cork oaks is also important for the ecosystem and the preservation of trees and forests makes a major contribution to climate protection. the tree is particularly long-lived and can reach an age of 250 to 350 years. a cork oak forest only needs a little water and is relatively undemanding when it comes to soil conditions. the evergreen trees absorb a large amount of co2; the cork oak forests in portugal alone bind 4.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually - up to 14 million tons worldwide. in addition, the forests help regulate the water balance and prevent desertification. since the cork oaks are only peeled during cork production and the trees can continue to live, the forests and the associated ecosystem remain intact.
Protection of cork oak forests
Cork oak forests are native to many areas of the mediterranean such as portugal, spain, north africa and italy. because the trees are protected by cork production, these areas form unique natural ecosystems with great biological diversity. over 100 plant species and 150 animal species have settled, including rare bird species such as eagles, protected animal species such as iberian lynxes and various reptiles. cork oaks are also not as flammable as other tree species, so forest fires are rare and the plants and animals in the cork oak forests enjoy a certain level of protection.
Sustainable cork products for everyday life
Textile items made from cork have many advantages. unlike leather, they are anti-allergic and odorless. due to their robustness, products made from cork last for a long time. in fact, cork as a raw material and material is sustainable and does not harm the environment. however, you should find out about other ingredients before buying bags, shoes or other fashion items. polyester, polyurethane or polychloride is used to reinforce the cork. such materials or the use of plastic can reduce the good ecological balance of cork..
At the same time, however, one must also remember that all consumption has a negative impact on the climate and that the products must be compared to each other when purchasing. nothing and no one is 100 percent perfect when it comes to sustainability. rather, it is important to make thoughtful decisions that minimize your own ecological footprint as much as possible. if you have the choice between a wallet made of real leather, imitation leather or cork, the latter is the most climate-friendly option.
If the article has aroused your interest in cork, you can find it in our online shop modern Cork Wallets from the sustainable natural product.