Hey Stephen: Put a cork in it!

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A reader named Stephen wrote to us yesterday, pointing out that environmentalists extol the benefits of using cork on one hand and worry about endangered cork forests (at left) on the other. Odd, that. Fortunately, Treehugger resolved the quandary for us -- it seems that cork is that rare material whose harvest ensures its longevity. Industries that need cork have to keep the forests healthy; without their protection, the trees might get cut down:

The WWF have released a report saying that up to 75% of the cork forests in the Mediterranean might be lost within the next 10 years — all because of screw-top wine. They go on to suggest that by 2015 there might only be 5% of wine bottles using cork. Apparently without protection of the cork forests (cork is harvested from the bark of a special oak tree roughly every 9 years and then allowed to grow back -- some still productive trees are well over 200 years old), then habitat and livelihoods may be lost. 62,500 workers might be displaced along with the "endangered Iberian lynx, the Barbary deer, the black vulture and the imperial Iberian eagle." ...

[Pro-cork] programs highlight that cork extraction is financially, socially and environmentally sustainable, and that corks can easily be either recycled or composted, in contrast to the lifecycles of their newly arrived competitors.

Four fun cork facts after the jump.

From The Independent:

* The first recorded use of cork as a stopper is attributed to the Ancient Egyptians.

* Widespread usage began when Dom Pérignon swapped the traditional conical plugs - wooden stoppers wrapped in olive oil-soaked hemp - for cork.

* A single wine cork can have 800 million tightly packed cells made from a complex fatty acid called suberin, which prevents water from penetrating tissue.

* Yearly losses to the wine and cork industry from cork taint are estimated to be about £684m (about $1.3 billion).

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August 3, 2006 - 3:53am
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