The Cork Oak (Quercus suber) is an ancient species of evergreen oak that can live between 200-300 years and grows in southwest Europe and northwest Africa. It can reach heights of up to 20 meters (66 feet) and supports diverse habitats for animals, including endangered species like the Barbary macaque and the Iberian lynx – the most threatened feline species in the world. The trees are found among wild olive trees, other oaks, stone and maritime pines. These oaks are most well-known for their cork bark, used to make many products, most commonly wine cork stoppers. Its unique properties, including sustainable bark production, makes it a popular choice for a range of uses.
The cork oak bark layer can be harvested every 9-12 years, and this encourages healthy continual growth. The trees are survivors and are strongly resistant to forest fires: any burnt branches easily regrow and refresh the canopy. A single tree’s cork harvest yields about 100 pounds of bark. The largest cork tree, known as The Whistler Tree, yielded 2645 pounds of bark from a single harvest that in turn produced over 100,000 wine corks!In addition to providing our cork products and living accommodations for animals, the trees are soil builders and contribute to healthy ecosystems.
Cork material is buoyant, impermeable to liquid and gas, and elastic, making it quite functional. A unique use for cork is transforming it into a textile that has the look of soft leather but with better durability. The beautiful, high-eco-fashion handbags and accessories found at Evecork.com show off its range of looks and versatility. They use bark from Portugal where 50% of the world’s harvest is from. The cork is adeptly extracted by hand every 9-10 years by farmers who are some of the highest paid workers in the country (making up to $100 USD an hour). Cork oaks are safely regulated in Portugal to ensure proper care, in fact, cutting trees down is illegal. Lovers of nature will also appreciate the other materials used in Eve Cork’s luxurious line, like organic cotton, vegan glue, and vegetable-based dyes. Their items are 100% cruelty- and sweatshop-free.
Other uses for cork are for insulation and soundproofing in cars, heat-shielding in spacecraft, flooring, paper, arts and crafts, sporting goods, and watercraft. Because of its many uses, the cork industry employs over 60,000 people. If cork forests weren’t protected and properly maintained by the industry, wildlife would lose habitat, many people would lose employment, and synthetics (plastics, mostly) would replace the cork products. Other kinds of artificial leathers are made by covering material like polyester with plastic, a petroleum product which requires toxins to process. Wine stoppers are now commonly made of plastic, as well, and they’re contributing to the clogging of landfills and oceans.
Cork oaks are also being threatened by climate change, fire, deforestation, agricultural expansion. The Rainforest Alliance is working to protect the species in collaboration with farmers in Spain and Portugal to achieve Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. This would mean “cork producers in the region are able to ensure the continued protection of their cork oak forests and provide for the families that depend on the cork harvest.” Help save these forests by switching to cork products!