In the last year or so cork has attracted more media attention than in the last 2,500 years of use. Beginning with the Egyptians, cork has been used as a stopper for vessels containing perishables like wine,
water, and olive oil. Since then the use of cork has expanded to use in flooring tiles, shoes, insulation, floatation devices, and even furniture.
Recently a misconception has been going around that cork producing oak trees are becoming endangered and the environmentally sound thing to do is to find alternate materials. This is largely due to a mass miss interpretation by the public on the decision many wineries are making to move away from using cork in their bottles.
The real reason cork is being avoided by most wineries is simple: to reduce exposure to a fairly innocuous mold that grows on the bark from which cork is made. This mold, if present on a bottles cork, will effectively spoil the contents of any bottle it is sealing, the term for this is “corking”. Though not hugely common, wine makers find it safer to switch to alternative methods like plastic corks or metal twist-tops.
The underlying issue is that this misunderstanding may have adverse environmental effects. If people continue to believe cork is endangered and that cork products should be avoided then obviously the demand goes down, which is already occurring in some areas of the market.
The process of obtaining cork is inherently sustainable and eco-friendly. The tree is planted and allowed twenty years of uninterrupted growth and, when mature enough, the bark is stripped in the spring time, not harming the tree. This process is repeated roughly every nine years when the bark has been sufficiently regenerated, and can continue for as long as 160 years.
A drop in demand would lead to diminishing cork forests and production as other crops become more profitable. It would also effect already fragile economies, especially in Portugal where the skilled process is a centuries old familial tradition and risks being being replaced by newer attempts to make money should the demand for cork not grow.
For the NY green contractor, using cork in projects, whether retrofitting an old brownstone or building a roof top addition, cork not only offers a great ecological option but contributes to maintaining an age old tradition. With its varied uses and applications and beautiful natural aesthetic it is a favorite of Eco Brooklyn.
We always try to salvage local flooring first, but in some cases where local wood does not work we love cork. It is especially nice in areas like bedrooms or closets where bare feet can appreciate the soft and padded quality of cork.
A graphic of a cork trees biological structure.
What the process of obtaining cork has looked like for centuries.
An example of the potential cork has as a flooring material.
And now for something completely different….