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Is there really a cork crisis?

You may or may not have heard the rumor that the world’s cork supply is dwindling. Cork, which is made from the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber), is used in a variety of products, the most common being wine stoppers. So is there any truth behind the idea that we are running out of cork?

No problem. In fact, there are a lot of totally sustainable products, eco-friendly material. In fact, if you have ever traveled to the rural areas of southern Portugal, where the majority of the world’s cork oaks are grown, you will have seen first-hand that the alleged shortage of cork supply is a myth.

Experts in the cork industry, which employs some 30,000 workers in various jobs, confirm that there are plenty of cork oaks in Portugal’s environmentally harvested and sustainable cork forests. Regular planting ensures a continuous and steady supply, but the process requires some patience.

Newly planted cork oaks need, on average, more than 25 years of growth before their bark can be harvested for the first time. Farmers then have to wait another nine or 10 years until the trees fully recover and are ready for their outer layer of bark to be harvested again. This approach produces a high quality raw material, while allowing the trees to live 300 years.

Food to go? It is said that today there are enough cork oaks in Portugal’s sustainable cork oak forests to last over 100 years. Translation: There is enough harvestable cork to seal all the bottles of wine produced in the world for the next century.

So what led to the rumor that the world is ending? One thing that might have fueled the rumor of a cork shortage, or that cork is in danger and at risk of extinction, is that many companies in the wine industry started change of traditional cork stoppers to plastic “corks” and screw caps in the 1990s to reduce costs. The reason? Cork is much more expensive compared to alternatives because qualified farmers can only harvest it once a year.

That said, wineries had to convince people, particularly wine drinkers, that it would be more beneficial to use plastic corks or screw caps to seal wine bottles instead of corks. What better way to do it than by hinting that the cork is in danger? So more people might be willing to choose wines sealed with screw caps.

Another myth that might have contributed to this: In 1923, the Portuguese government began to protect the cork oak by law from inappropriate or out-of-season harvesting because officials were concerned that developers would clear cork oak forests to build on. To prevent this from happening, the government declared the cork oak endangered.

The truth is that the cork oak is No in danger of extinction. And since winemakers prefer screw caps for various reasons, that actually led to a diminish demand for corks for wine. So there is actually an abundance of cork oaks and cork oaks.

And here’s the cool part: That abundance has opened up a world of opportunities for lightweight, moisture-resistant, waterproof material. This day cork bags and wallets are becoming popular leather alternatives. And cork is also used in flatshoes and others vegan fashion accessories.

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