Cork is a 100% natural, sustainable and renewable product. And no trees are felled in the production of natural cork. It takes 25 years for a tree to be ready for harvest and then the bark is harvested every nine years for up to two centuries.
Production of natural cork stoppers causes ten times less CO2 emissions than plastic stoppers, derived from petroleum, and 24 times less than screw caps, materials for which are sourced from open-pit bauxite mines. Cork for wine bottles is harvested from oak trees in the Mediterranean. Cork oak landscapes cover nearly three million hectares from Portugal and France to Algeria and Tunisia.
The industry provides income for more than 100,000 people. Around 30,000 people rely on the cork industry for employment in Portugal alone, ranging from the ‘tiradors’ who harvest the cork through to those who work in processing. And while cork has many uses, the wine stopper is the Portuguese economy’s most important cork product. Of 15 billion wine corks produced globally every year, 60% are made in Portugal.
But the traditional areas of cork production are under threat, as a result of wine makers increasingly favouring synthetic stoppers and screw tops over natural cork. Three-quarters of the Western Mediterranean’s cork oak forests could be lost within the next 10-15 years as a result. These landscapes support one of the highest levels of biodiversity among forest habitats, including globally endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Imperial Eagle and the Barbary Deer. Oak agroforestry systems in Portugal also provide grazing land for indigenous pigs, sheep, goats and cattle. Ethical Consumer carried out a quick survey in a nearby supermarket and found that nearly all the ‘New World’ wines on the shelves use a screw top, whereas European wines were more varied. Of those that had a more traditionalstyle stopper none appeared to indicate on the label whether the stopper inside was made from cork or plastic, which therefore makes it impossible for consumers to make informed buying decisions. Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose include information on the type of stopper used for different wines on their websites. The ‘I Love Natural Cork Campaign’ is asking wine drinkers to pledge to choose more wines which use natural cork. Find out more at