Sustainability is one of the keywords of the 21st century, and rightly so. As the world population increases, per capita consumption increases, and the planet’s natural resources are shrinking, we all look for ways to decrease our carbon footprint and to cause less damage to our fragile Mother Earth. Cork wallets instead of, for example, traditional leather wallets, are but one way how we can achieve a more eco-friendly way of life.

     Cork is not a new invention by any means. In fact, the harvesting and usage of cork dates back as far as 5000 years ago, when the ancient Persians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Babylonians used it for such varied tasks as anything from sealing containers to providing comfortable cushioning in sandal soles. Only in the 1600s did the French monk Dom Pérignon, invent the cork stopper, which took hundreds of years to become the now omnipresent wine bottle stopper. In recent years, cork has been rediscovered for such fashionable and practical items as cork wallets and cork handbags.

     Over 80% of the cork used today comes from the cork oak forests in Portugal and Spain, both countries making up the Iberian Peninsula. Morocco, Algeria, France, Italy, and Tunisia are additional countries with cork oaks. The trees are not felled for the harvest. Rather, starting at 25 to 30 years of age, a tree’s cork bark can be harvested for the first time. This is done by highly skilled craftsmen, called extractors, who delicately peel away the bark layer, also called the phellem, every nine years after the first harvest. Each tree’s harvest, depending on tree size, supplies an impressive 40-60kg (88-132 pounds) of cork bark. The first two harvests produce a cork that is considered in the industry to be of relatively low quality, and it is called desboia. It is used for products like floorboards, wall tiles, shoe soles, and pinboards. After the first harvest, the cork can be harvested every nine years. At the third harvest and thereon after, the cork is considered to be of amadia quality, which is the highest quality. Now, the cork has a smooth and even surface. In order to prevent any damage to the tree, harvest time (every nine years) is only between early May and late August, as this is the time when the tree enters its active growing phase. Cork oaks reach the remarkable age of about 300 years.

      Another reason why cork is an eco-friendly product lies in the way of how the trees are grown. Cork oak forests are home to many endangered species and prevent desertification. They are actually some of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on our planet. According to Amorim Cork Composites, “over 200 animal species and 135 plant species find ideal conditions for survival in the cork oak forest.” Some of the rare species inhabiting the cork oak forests are the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Imperial Eagle, and the Barbary Deer.

     Being of a low combustible material, the cork forests protect their natural habitat, the Iberian Peninsula (known for its hot climate with low rainfall) and its entire ecosystem from forest fires. But surprisingly, there is an even more impressive benefit to the cork oaks: Every time a cork tree has been stripped of its bark, it absorbs up to five times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in order to regenerate the bark. All these reasons create a great interest for the countries that are home to the cork oaks to protect and nurture them. One more beautiful thing is-as with most native habitats- that the cork oak forests do not require much maintenance. Pesticides, fertilizers, and pruning are not needed, which further lowers the carbon footprint of cork production. 

     Cork has many desirable qualities for products of everyday use. For one, it is composed of Suberin, a hydrophobic substance. This renders it moisture repellent, which means for example: drop your wallet in a puddle, and the cork material is not going to let water seep in. A+ for practicality. Thanks to their natural cork characteristics, our cork wallets are incredibly lightweight, and they will feel like a feather in your hand. Additionally, cork is a flexible, buoyant, and fire-retardant material.

     It is also very resilient and can be flattened into fabric-like sheets. Which is what our cork wallets are made out of. The naturally occurring variations in the cork pattern make it an ideal substitute for the traditionally used leather for wallets and handbags. No two cork wallets are alike thanks to these variations. Our wallets come in a wide range of beautiful warm brown hues, and again, they feel light as a feather in your hand, are water-repellent, fire-retardant, and mold-resistant. Looks like you can do the right thing for Mother Earth without sacrificing quality and style!

     Another reason why cork is sustainable is that cork materials are highly recyclable. Many commonly used products such as cork pinboards are manufactured from by-product cork, such as the low-quality desboia cork. If you are looking into recycling your cork items visit the website recork, where you can locate cork recycling stations in the US. Jelinek is another company that has specialized in recycling cork through drop-off locations. In its natural and pure form, cork is 100% bio-degradable, and can even be composted. If possible, it might be best to drop all your cork off at a recycling station and let the experts figure out which is 100% cork, and which is a composite cork product.  When mixed with another component, the recycling companies are almost always able to turn it into a new product, such as cork-soled flip-flops.

     In stark contrast to cork, the other two popular products in wallets and handbags, namely leather and plastics (such as polyester) sadly come with a hefty negative ecological impact. Most leather comes from developing countries like China and India, where animal welfare laws and regulations are basically nonexistent. Since leather does not have to be labeled, it is even possible that the handbag holding your precious belongings comes from a dog or cat. And even in the US leather production, animals have to endure the nightmare of crowded factory-farming and violent deaths. Unfortunately, each time we buy a leather product we are endorsing and supporting the violent meat industry and the suffering of animals. And I think we are all aware of the negative effects of plastics such as polyester and acrylics, which do not biodegrade, and among other things end up in our oceans where they are ingested by fish and other maritime wildlife thereby causing premature deaths to both young and mature sea creatures.   

     When you buy cork products you support the climate-saving cork industry and help protect the approximately 100,000 jobs of the workers in the countries of the cork forests. For this reason, it is actually of utmost importance that the demand for cork is upheld, so that the cork oak forests are continuously maintained, and do not fall victim to logging. Let us sum it up with the words of the World Wildlife Fund: “Cork oak landscapes are one of the best examples of balanced conservation and development anywhere in the world. They also play a key role in ecological processes such as water retention, soil conservation, and carbon storage.” Visit us!

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