By Frank Swain
March 8, 2021
Do we need to find alternative sources of rubber before it’s too late?
Natural rubber is a uniquely tough, flexible and highly waterproof material. It puts tires on our vehicles, soles on our shoes, it makes seals for engines and refrigerators, insulates wires and other electrical components. It is used in condoms and clothing, sports balls and the humble elastic bands. Over the past year it has played a pivotal role in the pandemic in personal protective equipment worn by doctors and nurses around the world.
Unfortunately, there are signs the world might be running out of natural rubber.
In fact, rubber is deemed to be a commodity of such global importance that it is included on the EU’s list of critical raw materials.
Unfortunately, there are signs the world might be running out of natural rubber. Disease, climate change and plunging global prices have put the world’s rubber supplies into jeopardy. It has led scientists to search for a solution before it’s too late.
You might also like to read:
But how has such an important commodity fallen into such peril in the first place?
The global supply of natural rubber – around 20 million tonnes per year – is produced almost entirely by fragmented smallholders working tiny plots of land in tropical forests. Millions of these workers tend to plantations in Thailand, Indonesia, China and West Africa, carefully stripping bark from the trees to extract a milky white sap which is shaped into sheets and dried in the sun. Between them, these farmers provide 85% of the world’s natural rubber supply.