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Recycled cork, an option to reduce the environmental impact in construction

The construction sector has one of the highest environmental impacts worldwide and the duty, consequently, to reduce its emissions to minimize it. The study "Recycled versus non-recycled insulation alternatives: LCA analysis for different climatic conditions in Spain" published by Science Direct, compares the use of rock wool, natural cork and recycled cork as insulating material in newly constructed ventilated facades and shows that recycled cork is the best thermal insulation material.

This study becomes an important tool to help architects and engineers select the best materials for optimal construction while minimizing damage to the environment.

The context

In recent years, there has been an upward trend towards sustainability and the need to research and bet on new sustainable materials that minimize both energy consumption and the environmental impact of construction.

The facade of buildings is one of the most responsible for both energy consumption and environmental impact, and ventilated facades have been chosen for their thermal insulation behavior. The insulating materials that are currently most used to carry out this function are expanded polystyrene, extruded polystyrene, fiberglass and rock wool. The latter is one of the most used, but the authors of the study (N.Ata-Alim,V. Penadés-Plan, D. Martínez-Muñoz i V. Yepes) set out to find reasons to demonstrate that cork, which is currently already the most widely used renewable insulation material in construction in northern Europe, is the best choice not only from a sustainable point of view but also from 'a recycling lens.

The conclusions

The results of the study comparing rock wool, natural cork and recycled cork show that recycled cork has the lowest environmental impact and is therefore the best thermal insulation material.


(This figure is an example of the environmental impact in Valencia, where the environmental impact of transport is the same for the different materials and the difference is due to the production of the material. As can be seen, recycled cork has the least environmental impact, followed by rock wool and natural cork).

It is worth noting that despite the fact that rock wool is a material widely used in Spain in construction, it is prohibited in other countries because it is considered dangerous for health. The results of the study indicate that replacing rock wool with recycled cork would not only have a lower environmental impact, but also eliminate health risks.


Photo: Cork houses of Llafranc, published by Barnacork