The Mediterranean cork forests are one of the 25 global hot spots1. Covering a worldwide area of over 2.2 million hectares, in countries such as Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France these forests act as a global carbon storehouse, influencing the Earth’s climate.
The Portuguese cork forests alone, with an area of 736 thousand hectares, drained 4.8 million tons of CO2, from the atmosphere in the past year according to a recent study carried out by the School of Agronomy (ISA), in Lisbon 2. Consequently, one can conclude that the Mediterranean cork forests provide a carbon sink of over 14 million tons annually.
The Cork Oak tree (Quercus Suber L) is a unique tree species that is harvested every nine years, for the extraction of cork, once the tree hits the young adult phase – approximately 25 years of age. A harvested Quercus Suber L will retain three to five times more carbon than an unharvested cork oak, since the growth process of the bark greatly increases photosynthesis 3. With a lifespan of over 200 years most cork oaks allow for 16 harvestings.
In Portugal, with a 3.3 per cent cork forest area increase in the past ten years,the Quercus Suber L has become the dominant tree species. Being a young woodland, the majority of the trees – 73 percent – are growing saplings and young trees; full grown cork oak’s comprise 16 percent of the population; five percent are nearing old age; with a remaining six percent classified as decrepit.
Given the carbon retention potential of cork, every time a consumer reaches for a natural cork sealed wine bottle there is a direct contribution to the environment.
Assolegno’s – an Italian forestry association – study indicates that by consuming 15 billion natural cork sealed bottles, the pollution released annually by 45 thousand vehicles (with a mileage of around 15 thousand kilometers) is retained. According to Assolegno, a vehicle releases 170g of carbon per kilometer whilst a single cork stopper is capable of fixating approximately 8 grams of carbon – a value double its weight.
In summary, 118,500 tons of carbon is fixated annually by 15 billion natural cork closures. These results were obtained by analyzing the life cycle of a cork stopper, at its various production phases, from the forest to the final product.4
Likewise, Luis Gil, a researcher at the National Engineering and Industrial Technology Institute of Portugal (INETI), revealed some interesting facts. In heeding doctor’s advice and daily drinking two glasses of wine (250 ml wine) – compared with a 750 ml bottle of wine, per person in three days – a consumer purchases 122 natural cork stoppers a year. By merely doing so, the wine drinking consumer is retaining 1,183.40 grams of carbon from the atmosphere – the equivalent to a vehicle travelling a distance of seven kilometers.
The climate regulation debate, however, centers itself mainly on two focal issues: the importance of forest Carbon Sinks and the adoption of sustainable and environmental practices that lead to low Carbon Footprints.
Cairn Environment recently communicated its findings on the environmental impact of manufacturing differing closures (Carbon Footprint). The report stated that a natural cork closure releases four times less carbon into the atmosphere than that of a screwcap (aluminum) closure. A cork stopper’s Carbon Footprint is 2.5 kg of CO2 per ton with screwcap reaching a figure of 10 kg of CO2.5
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Notes to the Editor
APCOR – Portuguese Cork Association
APCOR’s mission is to represent and promote the Portuguese Cork Industry, with approximately 300 members, representing around 80 percent of the total national cork production and 85 percent of all cork exports. APCOR is also responsible for promotional activities, with added value to cork, on both a national and international scale, providing, in addition, an extensive Information Resource Centre on cork.
Carbon Sink: Forests and other ecosystems that absorb carbon, thereby removing it from the atmosphere and offsetting CO2 emissions.
Carbon Footprint: a Carbon Footprint is the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, emitted over the life cycle of a product or service.
1 Myers & Al, 2000
2 Information on the ISA Study (in Portuguese):
“O sequestro de carbono por diferentes ecossistemas do Sul de Portugal” Pereira1, J. S., Correia, A.P., Mateus, J.A., Aires3, L.M.I., Pita2, G., Pio, C., Andrade, V., Banza, J., David, T.S., Rodrigues, A., David, J.S.
3 Gil, 1998
4 Information on Assolegno Study -“ECOBILANCIO DI PRODOTTI IN SUGHERO” (in Italian):
5 Information on CO2 emissions resulting from the manufacture of closures:
“Screwcaps worst for the environment says closure company”, Decanter, 24 of July 2007.
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