Cork disposal and recycling

Cork as a material has been with us for thousands of years and we use it in a number of ways. Cork is an organic material made from the bark of the cork oak tree. This article is going to look at cork, its history and uses over time as well as how to properly dispose of it.

cork disposal and recycling

Who invented cork?

Cork has been used by humans for over 5,000 years and has been known since antiquity. Ancient civilisations such as the Ancient Egyptians and the Greeks used cork as a flotation device, a bottle lid and even had medicinal properties including hair loss treatments.

Although we have no idea who first invented cork as a material, it is believed that the famous Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon devised the first cork stopper to seal his bottles of champagne.

How is cork made?

Cork isn’t made but harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree. Cork is extracted from the tree without causing lasting damage. Workers involved with harvesting cork are known as extractors, and they use a unique axe to cut into the tree.

When the portions of the cork are removed from the tree, they are known as planks. The planks are normally carried out by hand due to the thick foliage found in the cork oak trees natural habitat. It is left to dry for a period of time before being loaded into a truck and shipped to a processor.

From here, it will be made into a product such as flooring, shoes, insulation and of course stoppers for drinks like wine.

The final product of cork is predominantly made up of suberin cells that are structured in a hexagonal honeycomb shape. These complex fatty acids are filled with an air-like gas which accounts for 90% of its total volume. Cork has a low thermal conductivity, with a density of about 200 kg/m3.

How do you dispose of cork?

Cork is a naturally occurring, organic material – which means that it is usually not included with other recyclables like plastic. Generally speaking, you can dispose of cork in a few different ways:

• Upcycling: Upcycling has grown in popularity over the years and is an excellent way to dispose of cork. Many upcyclers will use cork as a material to create new items, so they will gladly take it off your hands.
• Use a cork dropbox: There are a handful of companies that offer natural cork recycling dropboxes in supermarkets.
• Sell your cork: Many artisans use cork to make all sorts of products, and they are happy to pay for used cork.
Composting: Cork is organic which makes it an excellent compostable material. Throw your used cork in the compost pile and it will naturally break down over time.
• Use it as plant feed: If you are an avid gardener, you can grind up cork and use it as a fertilizer. It is particularly beneficial for orchids and improves drainage in pots, too.

Are there alternatives to cork?

Cork is a useful material that is environmentally friendly and sustainable. As a result of this, it is usually a primary choice for products like bottle stoppers. There are alternatives available such as artificial cork bottle stoppers, which are less expensive but also less sustainable for the environment.

Facts about cork

Cork is a naturally occurring raw material derived from the bark of the cork oak tree. Harvested cork is composed of the following chemicals:

• 45% suberin: This gives cork its elastic properties.
• 27% lignin: This is an insulating compound.
• 12% polysaccharides: these sugars in the cell wall give cork its characteristic texture.
• 6% tannins: These compounds give cork its colouration.
• 5% seroids: These compounds are hydrophobic, which makes cork impermeable.

Portugal is the worlds biggest producer of cork, with over 2.2 million hectares of cork forest covering the country. Around one-third of the world’s cork comes from Portugal.

Cork is applied to spacecraft noses to improve thermal insulation and reduce the risk of damaging the craft on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere.

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