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But overall, an environmental question. The added value of cork

Cork, plastic and aluminium have very different environmental impacts. In one case it originates from a tree, in another from oil and in the last, from a mine. A cork-oak forest may have a negative environmental impact, but highly reduced in contrast to an oil well and a bauxite mine.

The distinction between sustainability and recycling must also be made. Cork is a recyclable product but overall, it is a renewable product. Cork regenerates. Cork stoppers allow wine to remain a natural industry.

The transformation of bauxite into aluminium requires a lot of energy. Therefore production sources of aluminium have a tendency to locate themselves in countries where energy costs little, notably Queen’s Land, Canada, Australia, Jamaica, and United Arab Emirates. The various plastics used as stoppers come from oil, a problematic issue which is unnecessary to discuss further.

A PriceWaterhouseCoopers study showed the great environmental advantage of cork stoppers. Taking into account the whole process, from production, transport, corking and end-of-life, CO2 emissions – directly involved with the climate change phenomenon – are 20 times greater with plastic stoppers and 24 times greater with aluminium stoppers.
Cork plantations in contrast function as carbon sinks. After a 2007 study by the Institute of Agronomy in Lisbon, cork estates in Portugal capture 4.8 million tons of CO2 per year, in other words 5% of the country’s emissions.
As Portuguese cork plantations represent 32% of the world’s cork-oak forests this is 14 million tons of CO2 per year that is absorbed by these forests. Therefore, to safeguard them, one single solution: maintain the economic exploitation of cork.

The absorption in one year of this greenhouse gas distributed by all cork stoppers corresponds to the pollution of 490.000 cars. The accumulated thickness of all the layers of cork removed in the life of a cork-oak (about 200 years) is 3 to 4 times greater to the thickness of cork on a tree that has never been harvested. Harvesting cork therefore allows a greater amount of this greenhouse gas to be absorbed.

It is in any case an intriguing phenomenon. Now that a major part of stores have stopped the free distribution of plastic bags it is announced that most of our good old cork stoppers will be replaced by... plastic!