Is Cork Sustainable + Vegan?

By Adriane Marie •  Updated: 03/03/22 •  8 min read
is cork vegan and sustainable

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Durability: pros cork is durable, strong, long-lasting

Versatility: pros cork is lightweight, water-resistant, flexible, able to replace harmful and pollutant materials, like plastic, used for everyday objects, such as purses, handbags, wallets and accessories for men and women

Affordability: moderate, cork prices will vary

Cork is…

ENVIRONMENT

Fiber source: natural, cork is a natural fiber, made from the soft bark of a kind of oak tree

Biodegradable: yes, cork is biodegradable, a renewable and completely recyclable material

Destruction: low, cork production is relatively sustainable, cork bark harvesting doesn’t harm the tree itself, which makes it a useful, renewable material, completely recyclable material, purchasing cork actually helps prevent the desertification of cork oak forests which numerous endangered species call home, easy to recycle cork products and by-products, cork is one of the most highly renewable, eco-friendly resources on the planet

Cork is…

ANIMALS

Kills: none, cork production does not require any animals to die

Harms: none, cork production does not require any animals

Indirectly kills or harms: none

Cork is…

★★★★★ What you can do about it...Look Inside!

LABORERS

Health and safety: tend to be fair, the cork industry does not have any known reports of worker mistreatment and does not have a negative reputation for such practices that may include farmworkers that are subject to dehydration, heat stroke, unprotected exposure to harmful, toxic chemicals and pesticides, unsafe machinery and clean drinking water may not always accessible

Living conditions: tend to be fair, cork laborers are not often subject to exploitation, and do not have reputations like other industries of facing tough working conditions including long hours in the sun and heat performing physically exhausting tasks, there are not issues of migrant workers being subject to abuse since migrant workers are not common for cork harvesting

Wages: typically well paid, generally cork farmworkers earn good wages, as it requires skilled professionals

Cork has a…

What are cork uses?

Cork uses include making bulletin boards, flooring, wall tiles, bottle stoppers, dartboards, purses, shoes and more.

What are some ethical vegan fashion brands that use cork?

Arsayo, Corkor, Cork Crafts, Doshi and Infantium Victoria are ethical vegan fashion brands that use cork.

cork is durable.

durable, long lasting fabrics, materials and textiles

Is cork durable or delicate? Cork is durable and long lasting when cared for properly.

For every 5 garments produced, the equivalent of 3 end up in a landfill or incinerated each year!

One reason for such wastefulness society’s ever growing desire to acquire. Fast fashion (creating low-priced items at high volumes) is problematic for a number of reasons and promotes the attitude that clothing is nearly disposable.

But another component of such a quick turnaround on clothing is because it’s just not lasting long enough. Snags, stains, warping and shrinkage render items unusable and unacceptable for the  donation pile. Avoid such problems by buying better quality, more durable, long lasting materials. Timeless wardrobe favorites that last for years and years are more sustainable and reduce the need for replacements. 

Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles burns or goes to landfills…

Keep minimalism in mind and buy less, borrow and buy items second hand. Thrift shops offer many inexpensive, unique finds that have already proven to stand the test of time!

cork is sustainable.

sustainable shopping, for eco friendly brands and products good for the environment

Is cork eco friendly and sustainable? Yes, cork is sustainable.

Materials from animals are natural fibers and biodegradable unless heavily treated with chemicals. However, they are not at all eco-friendly or sustainable due to the overwhelming strain on natural resources; the water needed, food needed and land usage that must happen for such abundant amounts of animals to live.

With the high number of animals unnaturally bred onto the planet in the name of human utilization, specifically ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, deer, camels, etc.), they emit high volumes of carbon emissions and contaminate air, soil and water with their waste (excrement). This is also toxic to ecosystems and wildlife. 

Animal agriculture is not good for the environment, human health and of course, the animals themselves. Thus, animal derived, non-vegan materials are not only cruel and inhumane but environmentally unsustainable. 

That’s not to say that all vegan materials are sustainable. There are many vegan yet unsustainable fabrics, materials and textiles. Most of us don’t realize that washing one synthetic garment releases about 2,000 plastic microfibers which then enter the ocean and food chain…or that 30% of rayon and viscose used in fashion comes from endangered and ancient forests. So because a fabric is vegan it does not necessarily mean that it is sustainable, eco-friendly and so on. 

Vegan and sustainable fashion near you is easier than ever with this: Vegan Clothing Brands Per Country List

cork is vegan.

vegan-material

Is cork vegan? Yes, cork is vegan.

Cows, sheep, alpacas, goats, ducks and foxes are animals commonly subject to exploitation for their skins, hair or feathers. In fact, BILLIONS of them die every single year simply in the name of fashion. 

Before buying a pair of shoes, a sweater, a purse, check the materials. Common and unfortunately popular animal-derived materials include leather, suede, fur, feathers, mohair and wool -which often come from places like India and China where there can be NO animal welfare laws or enforcement. If the item does come from a more developed area of the world, such as the United States or Europe, that animal was likely a victim of factory farming.

Dressing and decorating vegan is easier than ever with this: Vegan Fabrics, Materials and Textiles List

cork is a material that has a reputation for fair labor treatment.

benefits of buying fair trade, labor rights, human rights and workers rights issues

Is cork a material that has known labor issues? At this time, there are no known specific reports of worker mistreatment regarding cork tree farming. Cork is a material that has a positive reputation for fair labor treatment. Here’s why…

“Cork harvesting involves teams of specialized workers and cannot be done easily like other farm work. Removing the bark requires special attention to how the axe breaks the cork and how it detaches from the tree. Machines or unskilled workers cannot complete the work like most exploitable agricultural works do.

The axe impact on the tree must hit it enough to release the cork layer but not to break into the layer that is immediately close to the tree. If this happens it can lead to a premature tree death. The work is passed down from elderly workers to younger workers, as it is important for the new workers to learn the exact techniques on how to harvest cork. With migrant workers there would be a legitimate language barrier and it is unprofitable for land owners to hire migrants at a lower pay, as it would take too much time to teach the workers and train them in this technique for very short working periods during the summer months. From a landowner perspective, it is a waste of time and unprofitable to seek lower paid workers that can end up killing trees.

Cork sustainability

A cork forest landowner wants to preserve as much as possible his own trees, most landowners do not come into the business by planting the trees as it takes roughly 40 years for a tree to yield good craft able cork. Instead the cork forests are either inherited or bought by land owners. The trees are of course extremely valuable, and acquiring a cork forest with trees that are a hundred years old, and economically profitable means a lot of care goes into the trees to keep them alive.

While agricultural work has been the staple of cork forest, recent studies have proven that leaving the forest intact in the 8 years between harvests leads to a larger yield of cork and less tree mortality. So some landowners are instead opting in rewildling part of their forests. To the few that opt for cattle grazing, it has been proven it leads to more tree mortality as pathogens travel from tree to tree apparently on cattle paws. And normal vegetable growing farming works but not on a monoculture level. Furthermore, it is illegal in Portugal to cut down cork trees and if a farmer does so, they do not get fined but arrested!

Regarding the work of a cork harvester, it is indeed extremely hard work and for this the work of a cork harvester has been recognized as being one of the most well paid agricultural jobs in the world. This of course in places where cork trees are native such as Portugal and Spain. Other countries around the world that are only recently in the cork business cannot be vouched for.”

Sources:

Sew Guide: Fabric glossary
Cork Crafts: About Cork
Corkor: Is cork eco-friendly?
Textile School: Textile fabric types
The Spruce: Types of fabric A to Z: What are you wearing?
Grandview Research: Synthetic Leather Market Worth $40.9 Billion By 2027 | CAGR: 4.4%

Adriane Marie

As an educator, author and conscious consumer advocate, I study and organize ethical info for you to quickly see how our purchases impact animals, people and the planet. I hope you find this HEALabel knowledge useful and can apply it to your life for personal and societal improvement and empowerment.