Corking it!

Cork Moulding - IPL Packaging

A closer look at an innovative and sustainable packaging material

Ah, cork! Who knew this renewable resource was good for so many things?

Whilst many of us are familiar with cork’s usage as a bottle stopper, this renewable resource is more recently being used for every purpose imaginable – whether it’s flooring, iPhone cases, handbags, furniture or even NASA employing it in the insulation of their space shuttles.

Whatever its formation, more and more industries are appreciating the versatile and eco-friendly qualities of cork, with the material’s growing popularity understandable when you consider it’s basic structure and attributes:

Cork’s unique honeycomb-like composition results in low thermal conductivity and good heat storage properties. Essentially, cork is a heat insulator, it’s also lightweight and attractive, fire-resistant, naturally waterproof yet breathable, highly abrasion-resistant – and it can be manipulated into a myriad shapes and sizes. Cork is also entirely biodegradable and it’s growth (like all trees) pulls CO2 from the atmosphere.

Interestingly, a piece of cork the size of a sugar cube contains around 60 million air-filled pockets. No other material can match that. This makes cork extremely elastic. Cork can be also pressed to 40% of its volume, but returns to its original size when released.

All these qualities make cork suitable for multiple applications and ultimately resulted in its usage in IPL’s newly developed, solid moulded cork packaging for Santa Maria Vineyards.

Says LB Odendaal, IPL Packaging Innovation and Design Manager, “Creating sustainable alternative packaging is one of the main drivers of innovation at IPL, which is why we initially investigated the use of cork in our product designs,” he explains. “Cork is 100% natural, responsibly grown and completely recyclable, furthermore it can be reworked back into raw material and reshaped into new products with very little waste.”

“In developing the solid mould cork packaging for the Santa Maria bottles, the moulding process allowed for a pack to be made out of a single material, thereby forgoing the need for adhesives, additional bottle fitments and even printed graphics due to the ability to laser engrave the branding onto the cork,” says LB.

“This cork moulding process requires pressure and heat, bonding the composite cork into any shape that complies with simple mould extraction principles. The result is not only visually attractive, it offers wonderful protection for wine and spirits against temperature variations as well as any possible negative effects from storage and transport conditions,” he says.

Cork uncovered:


  • 60% of global cork production is made into corks for wine and champagne.
  • Most of the world’s cork comes from just a few countries; Portugal 61%, Spain almost 30% and Italy less than 10%.
  • It takes 25-30 years for a cork oak tree to reach harvestable status (the first harvest, and sometime the second one, is of low-quality cork, and cork-cutters must wait another decade to cut that same tree again),
  • When a cork oak is ready it is harvested for its outer layers for the rest of its 200-250-year lifespan (about 12 harvests per tree).
  • The trees are not cut down; just their bark (which grows back) is removed.
  • This process actually takes 4-5 skilled labourers using hand-axes, and cannot be performed by a machine. The business is large enough that it annually employs about 30,000 people throughout Europe.