The quest for more sustainable, eco-friendly materials
As we move towards a better understanding of the impacts our choices have on the environment and the planet, a shift in materials is called for.
Industries like fashion and design have been increasingly aware of the need to look for more sustainable materials - materials that are both unharmful to animals and the environment, and capable of contributing to a cleaner, more sustainable world.
But are there such materials? Yes, greener materials have been around for centuries and are just now being (re)discovered. Cork is one such material: natural, renewable and recyclable, it is biodegradable and 100% environmentally friendly.
Recognized by its unique aesthetic and the qualities it imprints to products, it’s one of the best alternatives to leather and plastics.
One of the most eco-friendly resources on the planet
In the forefront of the materials revolution, cork is one of the greenest alternatives there is. Besides being waterproof, buoyant, elastic, fire resistant and unique in its appearance, it is a naturally harvested material, mainly originating in the cork oak forests located in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain).
Because it is harvested only from the bark of the cork oak tree (which means the tree keeps on living and helping to clean our air) it is one of the most highly renewable and eco-friendly resources on the planet.
In fact, cork harvesting can help in the fight against global warming. How? At the age of twenty five the tree's bark can be harvested every nine years, for a period of over 200 years. While the cork is growing it is capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But it gets more interesting: each time the cork is harvested, the tree absorbs more CO2 to aid in the bark regeneration process. This means regularly harvested cork trees store three to five times more CO2 than those left unharvested.
Given that cork trees can live for up to 300 years, one tree can supply cork for many many generations.
Supporting cork is supporting nature
The more people buy cork, the more the cork industry needs to plant more cork oak trees, which creates a virtuous cycle that is healthy for the environment and for our planet. In short, supporting cork is supporting nature and natural habitats.
In fact, the financial viability of cork and cork growers helps provide long term habitat protection for hundreds of animal and plant species. These cork oak forests support one of the world’s highest levels of forest biodiversity, a unique and fragile ecosystem which constitutes a habitat for rare and even endangered species, like the Iberian lynx.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) “cork oak forests support one of the highest levels of biodiversity among forest habitats, as well as the highest diversity of plants found anywhere in the world”. So, the best way to support the preservation of these habitats is to choose cork over other synthetic products.
Recyclable and Biodegradable
Besides being entirely natural and helping preserve myriad species, there is very little processing involved in the extraction of cork. The ecological footprint from extraction until the final product is incredibly low compared to that of plastic production.
The reason for such a low ecological footprint lies in two qualities of cork: it is both recyclable and biodegradable. This means that even during the manufacturing process, cork waste is reused and ground to make agglomerated cork products, never going to waste. Cork powder and other chemical components removed during processing can be salvaged as well, as fuel sources and byproducts.
Is there any downside to cork?
Being an all natural product, cork doesn’t leave anything to be desired from its industrial counterparts, quite the contrary. Because of its flexibility, it can easily replace harmful and pollutant materials, like plastic, in the production of everyday objects, such as quality, vegan purses, handbags, wallets and accessories for men and women.
Try holding a cork object in your hands, and you will spot the differences right away. It feels altogether very different from a synthetic manmade material – it’s like you have a piece of nature in your hands. And that is exactly what it is.