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Vzw Vlaspit turns recycled cork into sustainable ground cover

Nowadays cork is no longer considered as a disposable material, but instead as a valuable recycling material. Non-profit Vlaspit devised a natural ground cover for placing around the bottom of plants and trees. The city of Leuven was looking for a sustainable alternative for keeping the weeds at bay in the exposed earth around trees.

Vlaspit is a social employment initiative based in Scherpenheuvel, who among its other activities, collects cork for recycling. The recycled, natural cork is already used for making insulating materials, and the organisation was looking for new application areas.

As a result of this, Sirris was asked whether the recycled material could be used for making tree base rings. Healthy tree growth depends on the ground around the trunk being open to allow water and oxygen to enter the soil. If the soil around the trunk is hard because of paving for example, then the tree runs the risk of ending up with insufficient air and water. This is where ground covers made from a natural, permeable material such as cork offers a suitable alternative. The organisation needed help in its search for suitable material, the mixture ratios and the method of application in an area where Sirris had already acquired the required expertise.

From tests to practice

Sirris carried out tests and created small scale samples to help it improve the system. The next step involved scaling up the initial practical demonstrations. This tree base ring is a sort of carpet made from a mixture of cork granules and resin, which is then laid around the base of the tree. This allows sufficient air and water through, but it also prevents the growth of weeds. In addition the cork bedding looks neat and natural. 

The tree base rings seemed to be a possible solution to the city of Leuven in its search for a more ecological alternative for the weed-killers in tree beds. A test project has been started on several location in Leuven. If the initiative is successful, it will be extended over the coming years, in cooperation with the Leuven parks department.

In addition we will also provide training for the staff at the City of Leuven and Vlaspit.