What is sustainable rubber?

What is sustainable rubber?

Sustainability in nature

Rubber is one of the world’s most widely used materials, but irresponsible farming methods have led to deforestation and human rights abuses as the sector has grown. Could there be a better way? Eco-Business explores the potential for sustainable natural rubber. The idea of ​​life cycle assessment (LCA assessment) or LCA can be traced back to the 1960s. When environmental issues received increasing attention from the people and the government. The starting point can be attributed to growing environmental problems such as acid rain and smoke, which have been the result of a growing global population and rapid industrialization. Concerns about the scarcity of raw materials and energy resources have led to an increasing interest in finding ways to integrate energy consumption. One of the first studies in this field was conducted by a group of researchers at the American company Coca-Cola to compare the types of beverage containers to determine the type of container that has the least environmental release and has the least effect on the supply of natural resources

Bouncy, elastic, compressible and moldable—the unique properties of natural rubber make it one of the most widely used materials, found in products from pencil erasers and birthday balloons to condoms and protective gloves. Today nearly 50 per cent of every auto tire and 100 per cent of all aircraft tires are made of natural rubber. Even the invention of synthetic rubber and rubber-like plastics has not stunted demand for this natural material made from a milky sap known as latex, harvested from a tree native to the Amazon region, the Brazilian rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). In the last two decades, demand for natural rubber, 85 per cent of which is grown in Southeast Asia, has been increasing at a rate of 5 per cent a year. However, over the centuries since rubber plantations took root, life has not become much better for smallholder farmers, who produce more than 80 per cent of the crop worldwide. In Thailand, the world’s biggest rubber exporter, the country’s 2 million rubber farmers, many of them migrant labour from poorer neighbouring countries, earn as little as 200 baht (US$6) a day, and the use of methamphetamine is common as workers are pressured to harvest at ever faster speeds.

Tropical forests in alert

Meanwhile tropical forests are being lost at an alarming rate as they are cleared to make way for rubber plantations, threatening biodiversity in the world’s most species-rich regions. “As global demand for rubber products shows no sign of slowing, models of ‘business as usual’ scenarios have predicted major habitat conversion to rubber plantations at a possible further five million hectares globally by 2024,” says Vina Dharmarajah, Asia director of Birdlife International. As consumers and the companies that buy rubber grow more discerning about rubber’s environmental and social impacts, so the pressure builds on the industry to produce sustainable natural rubber (SNR), grown in a way that protects forests while meeting rising demand for the commodity. Eco-Business looks at how rubber can be grown sustainably, who’s buying SNR, and how to build the movement for sustainable rubber cultivation.

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