Natural Rubber - a fantastic product, with great versatility!
Here at Plastic Free Gardening, we’re proud members of the Fair Rubber Association and often get asked why we use rubber as our principal material for our products. We thought we’d compile this blog post as a kind of Rubber FAQ to help answer all of your questions.
What is rubber?
So, what is rubber? Rubber is a natural product produced by plants and is present in many goods used in our daily lives. Rubber has had an essential role in human history throughout the development of human civilizations. It still plays an important role, so we need to search for new rubber sources.
Where does rubber come from?
Nowadays, 99% of the natural rubber we use is extracted from a tree called Hevea brasiliensis. PFG sources all of its natural rubber solely from small scale farmers in Sri Lanka, whose plantations are certified not to have replaced natural forests. Ensuring they get a Fair Trade price for all the rubber they produce helps them sustainably build a business that can help support their own family and many families in the area.
What is natural rubber?
Natural rubber is produced from plants and is classified as a polymer. Polymer is a chemical compound with large molecules made of many smaller molecules of the same kind. Some polymers exist naturally, and others are produced in laboratories and factories.
Natural rubber is one of the most essential polymers for human society. Natural rubber is a necessary raw material used to create more than 40,000 products. It is used in medical devices, surgical gloves, aircraft and car tires, pacifiers, clothes, toys, etc. Natural rubber is obtained from latex, a milky liquid present in either the latex vessels (ducts) or in the cells of rubber-producing plants. Around 20,000 species of plants produce latex, but only 2,500 species have been found to contain rubber in their latex. The biological function of rubber for the plants is not fully known. However, it has been shown that rubber can help plants heal after they are damaged by covering wounds and stopping the bleeding. This blocks the entry of harmful bacteria and viruses into the plants.
The properties of rubber include high strength and the capability to be stretched many times without breaking. Natural rubber compounds are exceptionally flexible, good electrical insulators, and are resistant to many corrosive substances.
Synthetic (man-made) rubber can be produced through a chemical process, but people have not been able to create a synthetic rubber with all the natural rubber properties. So, natural rubber cannot be replaced by synthetic rubber in most of its applications. Therefore natural rubber is still essential to human society.
Is natural rubber expensive?
The answer to this question is never easy, as when and should you consider the cost to the natural environment? Natural rubber trees are ‘tapped’ by small farmers or plantation workers, in theory providing an essential source of revenue. However, currently, the price for natural rubber does not even cover the cost of productions. But because we are members of the Fair Rubber Association, we pay our primary suppliers a Fair Trade premium of EUR 0.50 kg/DRC (Dry Rubber Content) - at present, almost 40% above world market prices. This helps improve the working and living conditions of the primary producers and ensures environmentally friendly, sustainable production. Our primary source for natural rubber is also FSC certified.
The price difference between natural rubber, which has a higher price, and synthetic rubber is due to both demand-side factors, use and production and supply-side factors, including the costs of raw materials and agricultural constraints. However, the price of rubber is primarily affected by supply-side factors, causing a lot of volatility, particularly in natural rubber. The Fair Rubber Association is trying to help promote the importance of paying a Fair Trade price for natural rubber to ensure small suppliers can sustainably supply natural rubber.