Cork – An interesting material

by Michael Smith

Most people will only know cork as bottle stopper or, maybe, cork boards and tiles, but little else. I used to think, more or less the same.

However, cork has many other uses and can be made into many different things.

At the London Pure exhibition, that is now some while back already, a company from Portugal, Pelcor, showed the many other uses of cork and it was rather amazing to see it all, including business cards printed on cork. Other were a replacement, in a way, for leather.

The company's slogan is “Plant a cork oak for your grandchildren”, which is a wise Portuguese saying and this is true, not just for cork oaks. Plating a tree, in general, is something that we do for the wellbeing of future generations for none of us will ever see an oak tree, for instance, that we plat, even if we be only small children, grow to its full potential. It is the same with forestry;; it is the business of the future.

But I digressed somewhat – yet again...

Waterproof, elastic, light and highly resistant cork is manually harvested every nine years from living oak trunks by skilled debarkers in order not to harm the trees.

A cork oak will supply good quality cork every nine years for around a century and a half throughout its life and cork oak forests need no chemical herbicides, fertilizers or irrigation.

In those forests of rare beauty numerous species of birds, wild animals and humans live together harmoniously. Honey is collected from hives nearby the cork oak trees and mushrooms are collected that grow abundantly at the trees' feet. The wood of the trees is burnt for firewood and their fruits, the acorns, feed the animals, wild and domesticated.

Besides the capacity to produce oxygen, cork oaks have a unique cell structure that enables them to retain carbon dioxide – even more so, so I understand, than “ordinary” trees – the very gas that is reckoned to be the principal one in the global warming and climate change saga.

Planting cork trees has prevented desertification of dry regions in southern Portugal, since it reduces soil erosion while at the same time proving a livelihood for the local people.

Today cork as bottle stoppers is being replaced by plastic stoppers that are made to look like corks but which are not and also do not have the same properties as far as the wine is concerned. It is true that a cheap and badly made cork stopper can detrimentally affect the quality of the wine wine laid up without proper cork though will not keep well.

However, there are many other uses for cork, other than just being bottle stoppers and maybe we should examine those more in the production of a variety of sustainable goods.

Also, we should recycle corks too rather than throwing them away, despite the fact that true cork is a natural material and will, in the end, compost.

So, let's hear it for the cork oaks and cork.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009