Most people have difficulty associating the cork with anything other than wine. While bottle stoppers account for approximately 70% of cork production worldwide, cork can also be found in musical instruments, insulation, and a tremendous variety of flooring products. But the amazing thing about cork is how sustainable the production is, from the cradle to the grave. This ecological material can retain CO2 to a considerable level and the Portuguese cork oak forests can retain approx. 4.8 million tons of C02 per year. It is almost too green to be true.
A green harvest
Cork grows on trees in Mediterranean climates such as Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia, and France. Assembled as a unique and delicate treasure of biological diversity, classified by environmental organizations as one of the few places of global biodiversity, it offers the opportunity for Portuguese cork oaks to grow with zero inputs: without pesticides, without irrigation and without pruning. In Portugal, which is the main producer of cork, the collection of cork is highly regulated by the government. Trees are not harvested until they are 25 years old, and only every 9 years (by law). After a harvest, the trees remain alive and generally remain for another 170 years or more.
Synthetic corks are made from petroleum-based plastic. Natural corks are natural, they are recyclable and not many people know it. In addition, the energy inputs to make synthetic cork or metallic twist of corks are substantially higher than those of natural cork. In addition to the fact that natural cork is biodegradable, there are natural cork recycling programs. Natural cork wine stoppers are also great craft items.
Of the 80% of world cork exports generated in the Iberian Peninsula, 60% comes from Portugal, where cork oaks occupy more than 736 thousand hectares (23% of the national forest).
In Portugal, the cork industry creates 9,000 jobs, of which 6,500 are in forest exploration and thousands of jobs related to other Montado products (such as livestock, catering and tourism, etc.), which contribute 2% of Portuguese exports of goods and 30% of forest products. In some villages, cork is the main income, keeping these areas alive with economic and social activities. In addition to creating wealth, cork as an indelible factor of social and economic development for Western Mediterranean countries also distributes wealth by making these regions economically viable.
Because they form environmentally and economically sustainable systems, cork oak forests provide an important contribution to preventing desertification.