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"Green Cork" prompts Portugal to recycle cork stoppers

Sustainability 4/2008

Green Cork is a recycling programme created in 2008 with a double aim: recycling and transforming cork stoppers into other products, and financing the planting of native Portuguese trees, in particular cork oaks. In partnership with Quercus and other bodies, by the end of 2011 the initiative had succeeded in collecting and recycling 85 tonnes of stoppers.

By February 2012 it had supported the planting of 41,563 trees in various parts of the country. Until March 2010, the trees were planted as part of the "Creating Woodlands, Preserving Biodiversity" programme. After this date, the reforestation initiatives took place as part of the "Centenary Woodlands" programme, and are at present conducted under the auspices of the "Common Forest" project. This last project has the support of a wide range of institutions, some of them local, enabling both more extensive planting of trees, and proper preservation of the same. 







1. Challenge

The "Green Cork" project was created with the aim of responding to the following challenges:

  • Promote a new recycling practise in Portugal - recycling of cork stoppers - achieving a 30% recycling rate in 4 years;
  • Extend the CO2 retention period associated with cork stoppers;
  • Raise public awareness of the environmental advantages of cork products in supporting an ecosystem with unique characteristics;
  • Plant trees native to Portuguese woodlands, such as cork oaks, thereby contributing to the value enhancement of one of Europe's richest ecosystems in terms of biodiversity.


2. Context

The Company

CORTICEIRA AMORIM is the largest manufacturer of cork products in the world, with a worldwide business turnover of 495 million euros. CORTICEIRA AMORIM and its subsidiaries enthusiastically promote the conservation and preservation of millions of cork oaks throughout the Mediterranean Basin, a forest area with a fundamental role in CO2 fixing, preservation of biodiversity and the fight against desertification. 


From the recycling of cork stoppers to the planting of trees

Cork stoppers ensure the maintenance of the cork oak forest, an ecosystem which in Portugal alone absorbs around 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 each year, around 5% of Portugal's emissions. The Portuguese market receives an average of 300 million cork stoppers each year, responsible for the retention of 3,000 tonnes of CO2. Cork stoppers, when recycled, do not release the CO2 contained within them, which is not the case if they are incinerated or allowed to decompose.  


3. Approach

The Green Cork project began in 2008, with the goal of recycling and transforming used cork stoppers into other products in order to assure the funding of the "Creating Woodlands, Preserving Biodiversity" programme. The initiative aims to promote the planting of trees native to Portuguese woodlands, in particular cork oaks. Green Cork was the first recycling programme to finance initiatives aimed at nature recovery and conservation. The goal of the programme is to encourage a new form of recycling in Portugal, with the target of attaining a cork stopper recycling rate of 30% within four years. It also aims to extend the duration of CO2 fixing provided by cork stoppers. 


4. Results

Between 2009 and 2011 CORTICEIRA AMORIM collected and recycled 85 tonnes of stoppers. By February 2012, Green Cork had supported the planting of 41,563 trees in various locations throughout the country.


GREEN CORK in schools 

Green Cork is part of the extracurricular programme of Portuguese schools. By the 2011/2012 school year, 108 schools had joined the programme, resulting in a total of 23,594 directly involved pupils.  In partnership with supermarket chain Continente, a competition entitled "Rolhas que dão folhas" ("Turning stoppers into leaves") is being held, with the participation of 887 schools and over 300,000 pupils. The prizes awarded by Continente will be in cash, but will require the schools to submit an investment plan corresponding to the amount awarded, regulated by a contract to be signed between the school and Continente.