Cork products are made from the bark of the cork oak tree. Ancient civilizations in Egypt, China, Babylon, and Persia have used this material for centuries. Cork oak trees grow in a vast Mediterranean forest region called the “Montado” which stretches across parts of Portugal, Italy, Algeria, Morocco, France, Tunisia and Spain. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “cork oak forests support one of the highest levels of biodiversity among forest habitats, as well as the highest diversity of plants found anywhere in the world.” The Montado forests are a designated UNESCO site. They support diverse ecosystems with grasslands and forests that provide a haven for grazing animals, bird species and pollinators, many of which are highly endangered. The Montado plays a vital role in fighting global warming by absorbing over 10 million tons of CO2 emissions each year, thereby reducing greenhouse gases and supporting oxygen production. Cork oak forests are protected natural treasures in Portugal and the harvesting of cork bark is strictly regulated. The Montado was the first forest in the world certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and adheres to the world’s most strict forest management regulations.
A Cork Harvesting Tradition
Many cork harvesters live within the Montado. These individuals and their families truly appreciate the trees as both a home and a workspace. Harvesters understand the need to tread lightly so that their generations-old occupation can be preserved. Therefore, cork bark is skillfully peeled away from mature trees by hand. This ancient art form has been passed down the generations.
Many cork farmers today harvest the same trees that their grandparents and great grandparents did decades ago. Miraculously, after de-barking, the cork oak tree continues to live and will regenerate new bark every 9 years, which allows for continual harvesting for years to come. Not a single tree is cut down in the harvesting of cork and the trees will live on for up to 250 years.
Cork is removed by hand from a mature tree in 1’ by 3’ pieces. Only 50% or less of the tree’s overall bark is removed during a harvest which helps the trees defend against weather and natural predators like insects. Once the cork bark is harvested, it is left outside to air-out for six months. Cork floors are made using left-over materials from the manufacturing of cork bottle
stoppers. Even the dust is used. Since no precious cork is wasted, the environmental impact is minimal and the integrity of the Montado is maintained.