stripped and unstripped cork trees – photo by Robert McIntosh (thirstforwine on Flickr Creative Commons)

The rise of inexpensive non-European wines and convenience-obsessed consumer culture are threatening the ancient and sustainable cork industry. But besides the potential loss of long-established ‘green jobs’ and the fact that plastic stoppers and screw caps are bad for the environment, the cork industry also sustains large areas of industry-managed forests, which are hotspots for biodiversity. Large bird populations depend on these forests, as does the endangered Iberian Lynx.

Cork forests are not cut down, but rather the trees are stripped of their soft bark every nine years throughout their 200-year lifespan. This makes the industry very sustainable because it requires no deforestation or biodiversity loss. Cork is also recyclable and 100% biodegradable.

From a piece in the Telegraph:

In the last ten years the proportion of wine bottles sealed by screw cap or plastic has grown from less than five per cent to 30 per cent of the 16 billion bottles sold every year. In the UK supermarkets, where more cheap wine is sold, screw caps can make up half the stock on the shelves.

The WWF estimates that as much as 1/3 of the Mediterranean’s cork forests could be lost if this trend continues.

It is Portugal that provides over half of the world’s cork and that is where much of the new promotional push for Cork is centered. And it’s not just for stopping wine bottles; cork products from jackets to flooring to umbrellas are selling both locally and internationally. My wallet is even made from cork.

The environmental benefits of cork are manifold and even include a possible application to use cork for soaking up oil spills.

From an article in the Financial Times:

Green credentials are another argument in the cork industry’s campaign. Cork oak plantations are defended as intrinsic to the ecosystem of southern Portugal and an agricultural system known as montado, providing a habitat for endangered species such as the Iberian lynx, the Barbary deer and black stork. Cork forests are also described as an important resource for absorbing carbon dioxide.

Those concerned about TCA, or ‘corking’, when it comes to traditional corks, should read this article by a wine and spirits expert in the Kansas City Star:

For wines, synthetic stoppers and screw tops are not significantly better than traditional corks

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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