Museum of 21st Century Design
Although palm oil plantations have received far more attention, rubber plantations can be just as bad for biodiversity loss and harmful working conditions.
Rubber tires like that on display are widely available and, depending on the size and specification, can range in price from 30.00 to 1,000.00 EUR. With over one billion tires manufactured worldwide annually, the tire industry is a significant consumer of the 20 million tons of natural rubber produced per year. 75% of all rubber produced worldwide goes to the manufacturing of tires. As a result, the demand for automobiles is the most critical determinant of rubber prices.
If this specific tire comprises synthetic or natural rubber is undocumented, but the creation of both materials significantly impacts the environment. Synthetic rubber, a derivative of fossil fuels (petrochemicals), affects the climate through extractive measures. The chemical production was developed at the end of the 19th century as industry began to outstrip natural rubber supplies.
Natural rubber production fueled colonialist expansion in South America and Asia, where rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) grow naturally or by human intervention. Rubber is harvested mainly from the latex from the rubber tree. Latex is a sticky, milky white colloid drawn off by making incisions in the bark and collecting the fluid in vessels in a process called “tapping.” The latex is then refined into rubber ready for commercial processing. In major areas, latex is allowed to coagulate in the collection cup. The coagulated lumps are collected and processed into dry forms for sale. The cultivation of natural rubber generally depends on harsh and poorly paid labor. In Thailand, the world’s largest natural rubber producer, a typical rubber plantation workforce consists of migrant workers from Cambodia who earn, on average, 140 EUR a month (half of Thailand’s minimum wage) and live in unhealthy conditions. Workers use harmful pesticides on the plantation, including Paraquat, and often work without protective clothing. Along with Thailand, the primary producers of natural rubber are countries in the global south.
Although palm oil plantations have received far more attention, rubber plantations can be just as bad for biodiversity loss, according to Warren-Thomas. Rubber plantations cause biodiversity loss, as plantations clear natural ecosystems to create monocultures. In Cambodia alone, rubber plantations were responsible for a quarter of all deforestation. Yet it will be long before these trees are ready for tapping – the growing process takes seven years. Demand for rubber tires and other rubber products in regions with high consumption levels, such as China, Europe, and the USA, increases unhealthy extraction practices.
Along with consumption, diseases threaten natural rubber production. A native of the Brazilian rainforest, the rubber tree is no longer grown commercially due to the prevalence of South American leaf blight. This catastrophic pathogen killed off the country’s rubber industry in the 1930s. Climate change is also exerting its toll – Thailand’s rubber production has been hit by droughts and flooding in recent years, with the latter also further spreading disease-causing microbes across growing regions. Due to consumption, disease, and climate change, rubber will soon deplete. For this reason, the EU’s included it on its list of critical raw materials.
Health risks associated with rubber tire production:
Occupational nitrosamine exposure. 1. Rubber and tyre industry
Automobile Tires—A Potential Source of Highly Carcinogenic Dibenzopyrenes to the Environment