Categories: Green

Cork: Green Material Spotlight

Cork is a wonderfully green material to use and has various building and home applications. It’s environmentally sustainable and is also readily available throughout many areas of the world, particularly in the Mediterranean.

Considered to be some of the most sustainable as well as environmentally harvested forests in the world, cork forests are second only to the Amazon Rainforest in terms of supporting the world’s forest biodiversity levels.

As far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians, cork was being used for fishing floats. The ancient Greeks also used cork to make stoppers for olive oil and wine bottles, fishing buoys, and sandals. Nowadays though, there are even more ways to use the bark of the cork oak tree, and here we will find out about some of these applications.

Why is Cork Sustainable?

The reason why cork is so sustainable is that no trees are ever cut down in order to harvest the material. Cork is actually taken from the outer bark of the cork oak tree, and is harvested by hand every ten or so years.

After the tree is harvested, it goes on to form new layers of cork, and so the cycle goes on. More mature trees produce harvests of better quality, and thicker cork, and each tree can sustain this process for around 200 years. Also, as cork is all-natural, it adds a certain attractive charm wherever it’s used.

The Pros of Using Cork

Cork has many positives in terms of using it within the home, business, and in building. These include –

  • Cork is both recyclable and biodegradable. Even in the manufacturing process, waste cork is ground and then reused to make other products. Cork chemical components and powder can also be used as a fuel source, and for this reason, cork is being used more and more in the building and decoration of environmentally-friendly homes, and buildings.
  • Cork is entirely unique. As it’s completely natural, each piece of cork has variations in color, texture, and grain.
  • Cork is very resilient. As cork is low-density, and lightweight, it’s incredibly buoyant. Cork is also perfect in terms of natural insulation, as it has a low conductivity level of sound, vibrations, and heat. In addition to these amazing qualities, it is the one solid material that can retain its width when it’s vertically compressed. This makes it wear and tear resistant, thus increasing its longevity.

These are just some of the amazing properties of cork, read on for more.

The Environmental Impact

There are many countries that have protection in place for the cork oak tree, due to its importance to both national and local income. For instance, in Portugal, it’s against the law to cut down a living or dead cork tree, without first gaining the right permission.

Because of this protection, there are many vast areas of Spain and Portugal that have been protected from succumbing to becoming desert, which is a huge issue in similar areas that don’t have laws to protect them.

In addition to the above, there are also endangered species that live around cork oaks, so not felling the trees is important in terms of supporting these.

General Uses for Cork

Cork has so many applications within the home, in building, and in the workplace, that it would be impossible to list them all here. Some of the most popular general uses for cork include:

  • Shuttlecocks – Cork is used within badminton shuttlecocks to ensure they are light enough to fly.
  • Bottle stoppers – Cork has been used many years as a wine bottle stopper.
  • Bulletin boards – Cork is the perfect material for creating bulletin boards for the home and office.
  • Musical instruments – Cork is often used to fasten together segments of woodwind instruments, in order to make them airtight.
  • Shoes – Many ladies summer shoes have cork soles that are attractive and durable.
  • Cricket and baseball bats – cork is often used in the manufacture of the core of these bats.
  • Spacecraft – Cork has even managed to reach outer space, being used in spacecraft heat shields.
  • Car interiors – Many automobile manufacturers are using cork for their car interiors rather than aluminum or wood.

These are just some of the many applications for cork, and as you can see, it really is a wonder-material.

Uses for Cork in Homes and Buildings

Cork is being increasingly used in the home and for building due to its eco-friendly, durable, and esthetic purposes. Common uses include:

  • Flooring – Cork makes a very good and robust material for flooring, however, it must be noted that cork floors require to be resealed once every three or four years to prevent moisture from getting into the seams between the tiles, and to help guard against wear and tear.

It is possible to seal cork tiles with beeswax, rather than polyurethane to ensure your flooring remains “green.” Cork is also slip-resistant, and is softer on your feet than tile or wood, and has air pockets that allow cork tiles to have a little give, making them a pleasure to walk on.

Cork tiles generally cost between $2 and $6 per square foot.

  • Concrete – It may sound improbable, but cork granules can be mixed into concrete to create a composite that has good energy absorption, lower density, and lower thermal conductivity.
  • Bricks – Cork bricks can be used to build houses.
  • Bathrooms and kitchens – As cork is anti-microbial, it’s often used in these rooms.

Cork is also often used as –

  • Insulation
  • Exterior finish
  • Floor underlay
  • Countertops
  • Acoustic wall coverings

Manufacturing companies, construction companies, and building designers are becoming far more aware of the trend towards eco-friendliness, so sourcing cork for the interior and exterior of both homes and businesses is becoming easier, and increasingly more widespread.

So, to sum up, cork has a huge number of applications in our everyday lives. With a typical cork oak tree producing many hundreds of kilograms of cork at every harvest, and the fact that the material is so sustainable, it’s a truly inexhaustible natural resource.

With new plantations of cork oaks being planted on an annual basis, to ensure the maintenance of the production of cork, the tree is the only one whose bark will completely regenerate after each harvest.

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    Amber Merton

    Amber Merton is an accomplished writer on the topics of green living and sleep. Her work has been covered in numerous online publications. Amber has been a regular author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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