What makes cork so sustainable?
Cork is becoming increasingly popular as a sustainable material, and no wonder. After all, cork offers an incredible number of positive properties like no other material. But what exactly is cork, how is it produced and what actually makes the material so environmentally friendly? In this article, we'll explain what cork is all about and why we chose this natural material for our products.
Cork - a versatile, natural material
When it comes to cork, most people first think of cork bulletin boards or wine corks. However, the natural product has much more to offer: Due to its excellent heat and sound insulating properties, cork is, for example, a popular material for flooring, wall cladding and sound insulation. Due to its buoyancy, the material was also used in shipping for a long time to make life rings and buoys before it was replaced by the supposedly cheaper Styrofoam and fell into oblivion for a while. With increasing environmental awareness, cork is fortunately used more often nowadays as it is being used in the production of fashion accessories and everyday items such as cork handbags, backpacks, wallets, cell phone cases and even yoga mats.
Besides its beautiful natural look, cork is very light, elastic, waterproof, flame retardant, buoyant, antibacterial and resistant to weathering as well as termites. And last but not least, cork is a renewable resource that is 100% sustainable, environmentally friendly and recyclable. This makes cork the ideal material not only for sealing wine bottles, but also for making sustainable accessories and items for everyday use.
Where does cork actually come from?
Cork is a naturally growing raw material obtained from the bark of the cork oak. The evergreen cork oak has existed for several million years and is a typical tree species in the western Mediterranean and North Africa. The world's largest exporters of cork are Portugal and Spain, which together account for about 75% of global cork production. On the Iberian Peninsula alone, 300,000 tons of cork is produced annually.
Over time, the cork oak has learned to adapt to the sometimes harsh conditions of the Mediterranean coast and has developed a particularly thick bark of cork, which protects the sensitive inner layer of the tree from drought, forest fires and strong temperature fluctuations. And it is precisely this thick layer of cork that distinguishes the cork oak from other trees and makes it so interesting for us humans.
How is cork extracted?
It takes 25 years before a cork oak can be harvested for the first time. After that, the tree can be harvested about every 9 to 12 years, with the best quality cork being achieved at the second, third and fourth harvests. Cork oaks can live up to 200 years, in exceptional cases even up to 500 years. This results in up to 19 harvests over the course of a lifetime.
The great thing is: not a single tree has to be felled to harvest the cork, only the bark of the tree is peeled off. Thereby the cork oak is the only tree in the world whose bark can be harvested from the living trunk. The harvest takes place between May and August and is carried out by experienced harvesters who peel the cork by hand, taking strict care not to injure the delicate trunk of the tree during the harvest. The special procedure of cork harvesting is supervised by the government and has been passed down for generations.
Was macht Kork so umweltfreundlich?
What makes cork so environmentally friendly?
A cork oak tree that is regularly harvested absorbs up to three times more CO₂ from the air than those that are never peeled in their lifetime. This is because after each harvest, the cork oak absorbs more CO₂ to regenerate the bark. In addition, a cork oak that is harvested regularly becomes more resistant to fire and forms thicker layers of cork. Therefore, the active planting and use of cork oaks by humans represents a positive contribution to climate protection with an excellent ecological balance. The state-supervised cultivation and strictly controlled harvesting laws ensure that cork oaks are reforested and not overharvested.<
Cork oaks are a home for many animal species
Cork oak forests are among the most biologically rich biotopes in the world. They are home to many different plants species and a whole range of endangered animals. The Iberian Lynx, which is considered the most endangered wildcat species in the world, finds it's home in cork oak forests where it's survival is closely linked to the preservation of it's habitat. However, the construction of roads, railroad lines and gas pipelines, as well as the planting of monocultures such as eucalyptus and pine forests, threaten its habitat and hunting grounds. The use of cork promotes the preservation and reforestation of cork oak forests, which ultimately helps secure the habitats of the Iberian lynx and many other species.
Yoga mats made of cork
Treehuggr uses sustainably harvested cork from Portugal for it's yoga mats and accessories. We have deliberately chosen cork for our mats, because the material meets all our requirements for truly sustainable products. The undersides are made using cork powder, a residual product of cork production, and recycled latex. This way, not so many new resources need to be used to produce our mats. Local production in Portugal also means that long transport routes can be avoided. We (and our costumers) can feel good about contributing to the preservation of a traditional Portuguese craft as well as help protect of the valuable cork oak forests and it's inhabitants.