A Beginner's Guide to Cork: One of the World's Most Sustainable Resources
Natural, renewable and versatile, cork is one of nature's overachievers that is up there with the world's top sustainable materials.
We are all familiar with cork, from stoppers in wine bottles to flooring found in homes to boards we pin things on. But cork does a lot more than keep your wine from spilling, it's taking the fight to climate change and greenhouses and certainly does more than its fair share. In this post we'll show you some of the reasons why cork is one of our favourite materials here at Reveal.
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Deforestation is one of the major causes of climate change and at Reveal we try and do what we can to minimise our impact on the environment. We are proud of the results of our Project Replant initiative but replanting forests is just one of many things we can do to support the environment as business owners and also as individuals.
Thinking carefully about the materials of the products we buy and use is another great way we can all make a difference in our everyday lives. One such material we love here at Reveal is Cork.
Cork has some pretty amazing characteristics that make it very useful and also one of nature's most reliable defenders.
One of the coolest features about cork is that trees do not need to be cut down to be harvested, the bark is actually harvested from the tree. This makes cork a fantastic alternative to wood because the tree continues to live a long and productive life even after being harvested.
Age of Cork
The trees are often harvested for the first time when they are around 25 years old and then again every nine or so years for the rest of their lives. As the tree ages the quality of the cork gleaned from the bark increases in quality which means it's used in different ways depending on the age of the bark.
The first harvest is known as the virgin bark and this is often used in flooring, shoes, insulation and some industrial products. The cork commonly found in your everyday wine bottles is usually from the third harvest onwards. This makes the corks in the bottles at least 40 to 50 years old meaning the corks are probably the most vintage things in our cellars!
An amazing aspect of cork is that regular harvests not only leave the tree alive and healthy, but actually prolong the lifespan of the trees up to 300 years.
This makes cork a true sustainable material and an excellent alternative to traditional wood which requires the trees to be cut down causing considerable damage to the environment.
The CO2 Factor
It's no secret that trees provide a range of benefits with the most well-known being photosynthesis - the process of converting harmful carbon dioxide to oxygen by plants.
But cork takes this to a new level by absorbing 3-5 times more CO2 than unharvested cork trees.
When cork trees are harvested the bark and trees spur growth and regeneration and the levels of photosynthesis go into overdrive making cork one of nature's most willing workers and defenders.
Nearly two tonnes of CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere by harvesting one tonne of wine stoppers. As the trees suck up huge amounts of CO2 the chemicals are locked safely in the bark and out of harm's way.
Because of this CO2 superpower cork trees are often protected in large forest areas where they happily shed extremely useful bark while sucking up extraordinary amounts of CO2 from the environment.
The trees along the Iberian peninsula in Portugal alone absorb around four million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year while all cork trees absorb an extraordinary 14 million tonnes of CO2 every year.
The trees also play a vital role in biodiversity as some species are only found in the eco-systems supported by cork trees.
Uses for Cork
Cork is extremely versatile and has many more uses than just keeping your favourite wine from ending up on the carpet.
Below are some of the ways cork is used around the world today.
Cork is used in trains made by Siemens to reduce weight and achieve more energy savings.
The Inspiro train in Warsaw, Poland features an innovative floor made of cork and aluminium. The cork assists with acoustics, insulation and also to the huge weight savings.
Mercedes Benz and Polestar (by Volvo) also use cork in their interiors with the Polestar seats using cork inserts inspired by camping and adventure gear.
Cork is a great material for footwear with it being especially useful in the innersole. The material has been adopted by many high-end fashion houses and was made a household name by Birkenstock and their range of sandals.
The Birkenstock sole (footbed) is made from all natural cork that comes from leftovers from wine stopper production. The company's success helped put cork on the map as a stylish, useful and sustainable alternative material.
Cooking cases and insulation
Cork provides an excellent casing option for cooking dishes. Not only can it withstand high temperatures, but it will protect your tables, kitchen benches and furniture from burns and damage.
With it being both versatile and incredibly sustainable, cork is a fantastic material that we are happy to work with and use at Reveal.
In terms of the environment, it certainly does its fair share and as demand for the material increases, the environmental benefits will only continue to increase.
To see some of our products that are made from cork, click here. If you have any questions about how we manufacture with cork please ask anytime.
If you are interested in contributing to deforestation efforts or learning more about the topic, American Forests is a great place to start.
If you have any tips or interesting ways you've used cork we'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
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