Cork is harvested from the Quercus Suber, or Cork Tree. It is a resource that is extremely renewable and environmentally friendly. The cork that is harvested from the tree is actually a collection of dead cells that surround the tree. The cork tree must mature for 25 years before the first harvest can take place. After that point it can be re-harvested every 8 to 14 years. Most trees will produce useable cork for 150 years and even longer in some cases. The beauty of this process is it never harms the tree and allows it to grow healthy throughout its entire lifespan.
And because the trees are only harvested about every 8 years, the carbon footprint produced from trucks is significantly less than other rapidly renewable flooring resources. In fact cork forests, which are created for the purpose of harvesting, are some of the most regulated agricultures in existence. Many endangered species and other animals make their homes in these man-made forests.
The Harvesting Process
Once the cork trees are ready to be harvested they are stripped by highly-skilled workers called extractors who use a small, extremely sharp axe that has been specifically designed to harvest the cork tree. The skills needed to perform this task are often passed down from generation to generation. There is no automatic way to do this—it must be done by hand.
Extraction is only done during mid-summer, because that is when the bark begins to come apart from the living tissue of the tree. The extractors chop the bark with the perfect amount of force to cut completely through the bark without reaching the actual living tree. Then they cut horizontal slices near the trunk of the tree and somewhere just below the branches. The wedge on the axe is used to pry the bark off the tree.
With the amount of bark that is removed, the Quercus Suber is the only tree that could survive such a process.
Cork Flooring Manufacturing Process
The stripped planks are stacked for 6 months outside while the wind, rain and sun chemically transform the planks. After that they are steamed in boilers to eliminate bugs, contaminants and remove the outside layer of bark. This also increases the corks flexibility.
They are then stored one final time for 3 weeks. After that they are punched into cork stoppers for wine bottles. The remnants of that are typically used for champagne corks.
Cork flooring is actually made from what’s left after all the cork stoppers are created. This is also when other products like cork boards, coasters and fashion accessories are made. The complete use off all the material taken from the cork tree means there is virtually zero waste, which is why cork is considered one of the most earth-friendly resources available.