ReCork develops carbon negative midsole material

ReCork, the wine cork recycling program owned by Sole, has developed a line of footwear produced from recycled cork.

The brand hopes to revolutionize the footwear industry by producing a material that offers all the functional benefits of petroleum-based foam, while being made from over 75% recycled natural cork. The first glimpse of this new material will appear in the Sole x UBB Jasper Chukka shoe.

The footwear industry accounts for 700,000,000 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per year, or 1.4% of all global climate impacts, according to Sole. Of these emissions, 34% are generated by the extraction of raw materials and the processing of fossil fuels to create synthetic materials such as EVA and polyurethane foams.

Cork grows like the bark of the cork oak tree, harvested sustainably without cutting down the tree. To grow 1 kg of cork, the tree absorbs an average of 55 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere, which means that natural cork is 55 times its own weight in sequestered carbon, the company explains. This carbon sink means that even taking into account the processing and transportation of the material, components made using ReCork recycled cork are carbon negative – each pair of midsole has a -4.71 kg CO2e footprint, which means it removes 4.71 kg of carbon from the atmosphere.

“This is something never seen before with cork,” says Karla Peckett, Vice President of Brand at SOLE. “Traditionally, cork-based shoes won’t bend, twist or resist water, and crack with too much stress. It is the only cork material that matches the functional qualities of petroleum foams. It is flexible, durable, lightweight, cushioning and water resistant.

This material is the product of thousands of hours of R&D by the ReCork team, which has been working towards this goal since the brand began collecting natural wine corks in 2008.

ReCork is poised to collaborate with notable global footwear partners keen to incorporate this material into sustainable footwear lines in 2023.

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