Where Does Cork Come from?
It all starts in the cork oak forest. It is produced from the bark of the cork oak tree, which grows mostly in Spain and Portugal. The montado landscape of Portugal produces about 50% of cork harvested annually worldwide, with Corticeira Amorim being the leading company in the industry.
With an average lifespan of 300 years, this tree is the gift that keeps on giving. Its bark is harvested without causing damage to the tree, and grows back to be harvested again after ten years. So, while demand for bark products can temporarily outstrip supply, it will not lead to a shortage of cork.
The lightweight, spongy bark has billions of tiny air cells. These cells allow it to float, insulate, and bounce back when compressed. Workers strip the thick bark from the trees with long-handled hatchets.
In about ten years, a new layer of cork will be ready to harvest. The trees live for about 300 years. Once again, the same tree will add to the world’s supply of bottle corks, fishing bobbers, tile, insulation board, gasket or sealer material, and many other useful products.
The bark then regenerates, its texture improving with each next harvest for seven cycles, after which the quality declines generally producing lower quality product. The industry is generally regarded as environmentally friendly.
Production is generally considered sustainable due the oak tree is not cut down to get cork; only the bark is stripped to harvest it. The tree continues to live and grow. Sustainability of production and the easy recycling of cork products and by-products are two of its most distinctive aspects.
Cork oak forests also prevent desertification and are a particular habitat in the Iberian Peninsula and the refuge of various endangered species.