Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Is cork the greenest option for your countertop?

Supremely Green

So what exactly makes cork so green? For starters, it's as close to an indefinitely renewable resource as you can get. Trees in the forests of places such as Peru, which get ample sunlight and warmth year-round, grow at lightening speed. The bark from these oaks, which supply the cork, is harvested during the middle of the year, usually mid-May through August [source: APCOR].

The bark won't be mature enough to be harvested again for about 10 years, but that one tree can regenerate this building material without ever being cut down. The harvesting process can continue for centuries because the average cork tree can survive for about 200 years [source: APCOR]. That means one tree can potentially supply a lot of cork.

In addition, cork is easy to recycle, and one company, SuBERRA, is at the forefront of manufacturing countertops from post-industrial cork rather than new cork [source:]. The company uses scraps from bottle-stopper manufacturers and mixes them with formaldehyde-free polyurethane adhesive and compresses it into cork countertops [source: Ecohaus]. The end result is countertops that are, like cork flooring, durable, heat and water resistant, and even impervious to bacteria like E.coli and salmonella [source:].

Durability is a big advantage to cork countertops. The cells in cork are tightly fused and extremely compact, which makes it nearly impossible for liquids or gasses to penetrate [source: APCOR]. In fact, when the cork is still attached to a tree's bark, these tightly fused cells protect the tree from external elements, such as microbes [source: Green Home Guide]. That's especially important in a kitchen, where spills happen all the time, and heat-producing appliances such as ovens and cooktops can generate steam. Because cork is naturally grown to protect from microbes, it will better fend off food-borne microbes on your counter [source: Green Home Guide].

One disadvantage to cork countertops, though, could be the price tag -- they're expensive, and can run as much as $80 per square foot [source: Ecohaus]. If that's out of your budget, there are other green options. We'll discuss those next.