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

LIFE14 ENV/ES/000460

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Contact details:

Contact person: Joan de Pablo Ribas
Tel: 934016557
Email: joan.de.pablo@upc.edu

Project description:


The European Union’s 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 - and 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. Besides, important cork-processing industries are located in other European countries such as Germany or the UK.

The cork industry generates large quantities of forestry waste. Some two to four per cent of cork panels are defective and sent to the 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 deposited at landfill (sometimes incinerated without energy recovery) the rest is transported to be recycled. If the closest recycling plant is situated to 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, between 0.5 and one per cent 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 is 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 will 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 will be used as substrate for energetic valorisation in a gasification process.

ECORKWASTE takes into account the waste management priorities established by the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/CE) 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 are also tackled.

Specific projective objectives are 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 will be set up on the grounds of cava producer CODORNIU. It will eliminate BDO and the cork waste will 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 with energy recovery. The aim is 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 (2009/28/EC);
  • Reduce water consumption in the winery industry, fostering the reuse 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.
  • Expected results: The main result expected is the development of a plan for the sustainable management of the waste generated in the cork industry. The aim is to reach a total reuse and valorisation of cork waste which currently is sent to the landfill or used for applications without added value. With the results of the experimentation in gasification and wetland pilot plants, an integrated waste management plan for the cork industry will be drafted.

    The following environmental benefits are expected:

  • Reuse or energetic valorisation of more than 95% of cork waste used during experimentation;
  • Reduction of polyphenols in winery wastewater by more than 90%, absorbed by cork waste used in the wetland;
  • Water treated in wetlands will be ready for industrial uses inside the factory;
  • Generation of more than 2 kWh of thermal energy for each kg of waste cork in fluidised bed gasification equipment;
  • Tar and waste production in gasification will be less than 0.5% in weight of waste cork treated; and
  • Identification of the best application to reuse the ashes generated in the gasification pilot system.



Environmental issues addressed:


Climate change Mitigation - Renewable energies
Waste - Waste recycling
Water - Waste water treatment


waste treatment‚  biomass energy

Target EU Legislation

  • Water
  • Directive 2000/60 - Framework for Community action in the field of water policy (23.10.2000)
  • Waste
  • Directive 2008/98 - Waste and repealing certain Directives (Waste Framework Directive) (19.11.200 ...
  • Climate Change & Energy efficicency
  • Directive 2009/28 - Promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (23.04.2009)

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Type of organisation University
Description The IS.UPC is an institute at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) that promotes and carries out research on sustainability. Its mission is to generate technical and conceptual tools to create a more sustainable production model, and to contribute to the UPC’s endeavour to provide scientific and technical support for social, cultural and economic progress.


Project reference LIFE14 ENV/ES/000460
Duration 01-SEP-2015 to 31-DEC -2018
Total budget 1,903,898.00 €
EU contribution 1,087,756.00 €
Project location Galicia(España) Asturias(España) Cantabria(España) País Vasco(España) Navarra(España) Rioja(España) Aragón(España) Madrid(España) Castilla-León(España) Castilla-La Mancha(España) Extremadura(España) Cataluña(España) Comunidad Valenciana(España) Baleares(España) Andalucía(España) Murcia(España) Ceuta y Melilla(España) Canarias(España)


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Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version