From the very beginning of AJOTO we have relied upon one of nature’s most amazing raw materials, cork. We fell in love with not only it's naturally protective and aesthetic qualities but even more for the sustainable industry that it supports. As a material cork oak it not only important for the local economy but fundamentally for the preservation of the delicate ecosystem of flora and fauna it supports.
We want to share this love story with you, expelling some myths and explaining how and why we developed our packaging. One thing is for sure, by the time you finish reading this post you will share our obsession for cork.
Let’s start with what exactly is "cork" and how it is harvested. Cork as we know it is the bark of the cork oak, a species of evergreen tree well adapted to the Mediterranean climate. For that reason, the largest areas of cork oak forest are found in the Western Mediterranean, predominantly in Portugal and Spain.
The magic of the cork oak is found within the voluminous suberose tissue of the bark. Stripping, or the ancient process of extracting the bark of the cork oak, is undertaken by specialised professionals with absolute precision, who use just a single tool: the hand axe. This is not done out of a lack of modernisation, but to preserve and protect the tree from any damage.
This delicate operation takes place between May and August when the tree is at its most active time of growth and it is easier to remove the bark from the trunk.
A single cork oak tree can be safely harvested up to seventeen times, at intervals of at least nine years and only once the tree has reached twenty-five years of age. This means that the harvesting of each cork tree can continue for at least 150 years. Between each harvest, the cork oak undergoes a self-regeneration process of the bark, which makes the activity of cork harvesting uniquely sustainable, and when correctly managed, such as in Portugal and Spain, makes it a truly renewable resource.
As a raw material cork has an amazing combination of properties; 100% biodegradable, recyclable, renewable, incredibly lightweight, impermeable to liquids and gases, antimicrobial, elastic, compressible and highly resilient. All of the above make cork is a prodigious raw material that provides endless possibilities.
Once harvested the Cork bark planks leave the forest in trucks and are stored for six months to stabilize and develop an even moisture content.
Once climatised, the next step of the industrial process is boiling. Cork planks are boiled in stainless steel tanks with the objective of removing any organic objects that have become embedded in the pores. In addition, this process ensures cork reaches an ideal moisture content for processing. When the planks are taken out, their volume has increased by 20%.
The selected planks, used for finest - natural - all cork stoppers are cut into strips and removed directly from the bark by machine punch. This is a highly precise semi-automatic or automatic process and creates an instantaneous product.
The waste material is then ground down into various grades and used for a variety of purposes such as floor insulation, floor tiles or most importantly the AJOTO pen tray.
To follow this story on how we use the waste cork to make our packaging read our next post here.