Rubber in the world
Natural rubber is inextricably linked to human society and civilization. It’s a material that is at once ubiquitous while somehow also remaining seemingly invisible. But, if you take a moment to look carefully you’ll see that just beneath the surface of modern life, rubber is everywhere.
Rubber is a substance so essential and irreplaceable that many governments have designated it a “critical raw material.” From the garden hose in your backyard to the shoes protecting your feet or the tires on your car, there is rubber. So intertwined is rubber with our lives that it’s hard to imagine a time before rubber was widely available, and yet liquid rubber was virtually unknown until the 16th century. Now it is used in more than 40,000 products in fields ranging from medicine to transportation and apparel.
There are a number of properties unique to rubber that make it supremely useful: it is strong, it can be stretched without breaking, it is resistant to corrosion, it’s waterproof, and it works as an electrical insulator. Perhaps most importantly, there is no easy replacement for rubber. It’s a one-of-a-kind polymer. It’s no wonder that more than 13 millions tonnes of the stuff is produced every year.
Our long history with natural rubber
Liquid rubber has been known by humans for a few centuries. It was used by indigenous peoples in the Americas for things like painting, games, medicine, and even waterproofing clothing. But it wasn’t until the 1830s when vulcanization was invented that rubber became what it is today. Vulcanization is a process by which rubber is made stronger to withstand extreme hot and cold temperatures and preserve its elasticity. This discovery, combined with the invention of the air filled rubber tire, helped make rubber essential to the industrial revolution.
A solution for every sector of society
Rubber offers solutions for nearly every sector of society. Just think of how many products you encounter each day that have rubber parts or require rubber for their manufacturing process: tires, shoes, refrigerator seals, rain boots and jackets, dishwashing gloves, personal protective equipment for doctors and frontline workers fighting COVID-19, blood pressure cuffs, and even condoms, earplugs and pencil erasers. If you have a dog, you’ve probably bought them a rubber chew toy to play with. If you like sports, you’ve probably hit or kicked around a rubber ball. Even underwater in the ocean, rubber is there: scuba divers rely on it for not only their swimming gear but for the tubes that supply their compressed air.
Tires are far and away the largest part of the rubber market, with more than 2.5 billion tires produced every year. As more and more people buy cars, we can only expect the importance of rubber to grow as more tires are needed. In order to satisfy this demand, it will be important to have sustainable rubber tires from certified forests.
From millions of small plantations to you
Given how much rubber you use in your life every day, it might surprise you to learn that rubber is actually produced by millions of smallholder farmers who manage tiny plots of land, known as plantations, in Southeast Asia. These smallholders grow rubber trees and harvest their latex, which is sold to some of the largest companies in the world to produce the products you use every day. And when the productive life of the rubber tree comes to an end, the tree itself is used. In fact, rubberwood is currently the most widely traded tropical hardwood.
PEFC is committed to supporting smallholders globally in their efforts to sustainably produce the raw materials that go into rubber production and help keep our world running. Where there’s rubber, there’s PEFC. PEFC is Here.