Cork is the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber L), that grows in Mediterranean regions such as Spain, Italy, France, Morocco, Algeria and, most particularly, in Portugal, where there are more than 720 thousand hectares of cork forests.
It is an astonishing tree, very long-lived and with an enormous capacity for regeneration. It can live up to 200 years, despite its bark being stripped around 16 times during its lifetime, at nine-year intervals. So each time cork is harvested, the tree is not killed and cork products are recyclable and reusable making cork a perfectly sustainable and environmentally product.
Cork has qualities that synthetic imitations are simply unable to match:
- Very light
- Impermeable to liquids and gases
- Elastic and compressible
- An excellent thermal and acoustic insulator
- Fire retardant
- Highly abrasion resistant
Cork bark that has been stripped from cork oaks is left to dry in the sun and is then boiled to soften it. The best bits of cork are punched out to make high quality corks and the remainder of the cork is used in all sorts of ways – mostly it is shredded then stuck together to make agglomerated cork products such as cork flooring or cork shoe soles. The specific treatment that is given to the cork at this stage is what determines the exact properties of the end cork product.