LIFE Project Cover Photo

Integrated and sustainable management of cork waste generated in the cork industry.

Reference: LIFE14 ENV/ES/000460 | Acronym: LIFE ECORKWASTE



The Habitats Directive classifies both dehesas (or ‘montados’) with evergreen Quercus spp. (6310) and cork oak forests (9330) as very important habitats for the conservation of biodiversity. Cork oak savannahs are threatened by disuse and abandonment in south-western Europe. Cork oak covers more than two million hectares of land around the world, producing more than 200 000 tonnes of raw cork per year.

The EU – particularly the southern Mediterranean countries – is the world’s major producer of cork. More than 65% of the growing area and more than 85% of production are concentrated in Portugal, Spain, Italy and France, while major cork-processing industries are located in other European countries such as Germany and the UK.

The cork industry generates large quantities of forestry waste. Some 2-4% of cork panels are defective and sent to landfill. At cork-stopper factories, over 30% of cork is used for stoppers and packing rings and the rest (70%) is triturated (processed). Around 30% of this triturated material is disposed at landfill (sometimes incinerated without energy recovery) the rest is transported to be recycled. If the closest recycling plant is situated too far from the cork factory, it is a common practice to also send this triturated material to landfill, in order to avoid excessive transport costs.

Triturated cork waste is occasionally composted and used in agriculture, but this treatment is mostly rather uneconomical. Finally, 0.5% to 1% of stoppers are defective and therefore sent to landfill. It should be noted that there are few specific collection and recycling programmes for cork stoppers. For this reason, most of them end up in terminal waste treatment (landfill, incineration) or - at best – are recycled as organic matter.


The primary objective of the LIFE ECORKWASTE project was to demonstrate the technical, environmental and economic feasibility of a cork waste valorisation system, according to the cork waste particle size. Cork waste of a certain particle size would be used as absorbent material in wetlands or for the elimination of organic compounds in winery wastewater treatment systems. Other cork waste, such as used cork stoppers and cork powder, would be used as substrate for energetic valorisation in a gasification process.

ECORKWASTE planned to follow the waste management priorities established by the Waste Framework Directive and also the waste management aims for a Resource-Efficient Europe and the 7th Environment Action Programme. In addition, the main targets of Directive 1999/31/CE regarding the disposal of organic waste in landfills would also be addressed.

Specific projective objectives were to:

  • Demonstrate an innovative hybrid constructed wetland system (pilot scale) based on the use of cork waste as granular media, for the treatment and reclamation of agro-industrial wastewater (winery wastewaters). The wetland would be set up on the grounds of cava producer Codorníu and would eliminate BDO while the cork waste would absorb the recalcitrant organic compounds (polyphenols) from the wastewater;
  • Carry out an analysis and quantification of cork waste generated in the cork industry at several European factories (producers and users of cork products);
  • Carry out a study on cork waste absorption of selected contaminants and cork waste physical properties for gasification purposes;
  • Construct a gasification pilot plant based on a fluidised bed system with a treatment capacity of 10 kg/day and energy recovery. The aim was to demonstrate the use of cork waste as an adequate substrate for syngas production by gasification in fluidised bed systems and the generation of energy. This will contribute to the implementation of the Renewable Energy Directive;
  • Reduce water consumption in the winery industry, fostering the re-use potential within the production system, while achieving higher effluent quality due to wetlands implementation (Directive 2008/105/EC); and
  • Compare the innovative and sustainable wetland and gasification systems against alternative current practices using the same indicators.


    The ECORKWASTE project modified the conventional processes of the cork industry, adding a ‘treatment wetlands’ step as a tertiary treatment to reduce the presence of some nutrients and pollutants and to re-use wastewater, and also a gasification pilot plant that can re-use cork waste as a source of renewable energy. The project’s methodology thus minimises the total amount of waste dumped in landfills – decreasing the sector’s environmental impact – by using such waste in energy production. To do this, it first converts waste into by-products, thereby enhancing the industrial network at a local level and helping to diversify the sector.

    Overall, the technical, environmental and economic viability of cork waste valorisation was demonstrated, including the use of cork waste as an effective biosorbent for the removal of different heavy metals and pesticides from polluted waters. The aerated flooded vertical flow (VF) treatment wetland obtained the best results and became the chosen technology. The treatment performed well on a pilot wetland, removing more than 80% of copper, nitrates and other pollutants. Cork waste could also be used as a filler in polymeric materials for 3D printer filaments, but this possibility was not confirmed mainly due to the large variation in their composition.

    The feasibility of cork gasification for energy production was also confirmed, although operational limitations need to be addressed before the technique can be implemented on an industrial scale. At the end of the project, every day of operation needed to be followed by a maintenance day. The syngas produced has a high heating value that makes it suitable for use in cogeneration engines.

    The generation of energy using cork waste was shown to be 56.62% efficient, while the cork reduction balance was higher than 65%. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) showed that energy production from cork gasification can lead up to a 35% reduction of CO2 eq. emissions compared to current energy production. It is also cheaper on a real scale at €24.7 per MWh compared to €76.4 per MWh. Gasification also offers indirect economic benefits related to the construction, operation and maintenance of plants, boosting employment in rural areas.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).


    Reference: LIFE14 ENV/ES/000460
    Start Date: 01/09/2015
    End Date: 31/12/2018
    Total Budget: 1,903,898 €
    EU Contribution: 1,087,756 €
    Project Location:


    Legal Status: PAT
    Address: C/JORDI GIRONA, 31, 08034, Barcelona, España
    Contact Person: Joan de Pablo Ribas
    Tel: 934016557

    LIFE Project Map



    • Renewable energies
    • Waste recycling
    • Waste water treatment


    • waste treatment
    • biomass energy


    • Directive 2008/98 - Waste and repealing certain Directives (Waste Framework Directive) (19.11.2008)
    • Directive 2000/60 - Framework for Community action in the field of water policy (23.10.2000)
    • Directive 2009/28 - Promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (23.04.2009)


    Name Type
    TYPSA(TÉCNICA Y PROYECTOS SA), Spain Participant
    ICSURO(Institut Catala del Suro CCT), Spain Participant
    INNOVI(INNOVI), Spain Participant