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What is Wrong with Natural Rubber?

Circular Rubber’s reclaim product will reduce the demand for natural, virgin rubber. But why is that a good thing – what is wrong with “natural” rubber?

Types of Rubber

There are two types of rubber: synthetic and natural. Synthetic rubber is mainly made from crude oil, representing about 70% of global rubber production. Natural rubber is made from the sap of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis).

Rubber Trees

Rubber trees require a hot and damp climate, i.e. tropical rainforest conditions. Plantations thus often require significant deforestation in ecologically sensitive areas – which, together with the associated biodiversity loss, represents the main negative environmental impact of natural rubber. Pesticides and fungicide applications cause further negative impacts.

Rubber trees remain prone to pests and diseases even with pesticide and herbicide applications, which causes supply fluctuations and associated price volatility.

Natural Rubber Latex From Rubber Trees
Natural rubber latex from rubber trees

Logistics

More than 90% of natural rubber is produced in Southeast Asia. With end users distributed globally, this means substantial amounts of transport. This transport creates pollution, supply chain vulnerabilities, and geopolitical dependencies.

Natural vs Synthetic Rubber

So, if natural rubber has many associated issues, why has it not been entirely substituted by synthetic rubber? Price is not the driving factor – which type is cheaper depends on natural rubber supply, crude oil prices, and many more factors. It comes down to the specific properties of each – below is a (very generalized) summary.

Natural Rubber:

  • High tensile strength
  • Resistance to tearing and abrasion
  • Good vibration dampening
  • Strong adhesion abilities

Synthetic Rubber:

  • Resistant to chemical damage
  • Withstands extreme temperatures well
  • Strong electrical insulation
  • Flexible at low temperatures

Circular Rubber’s Reclaim

The input to Circular Rubber’s process is mining truck tires, which have a much higher natural rubber content than passenger car tires. This makes our reclaim such a good substitute for natural rubber. The environmental impacts of rubber plantations are avoided, and supply chain risks are significantly reduced as our plants will be much closer to customers’ facilities. Our process mainly requires electricity as input; however, it has a lower energy intensity than natural rubber production.

Takeaways

Can natural rubber be sourced ethically and sustainably? Yes. Is such “responsible” natural rubber widely available? No. And it will still come with the associated logistical challenges, costs, and carbon footprint. Our reclaim thus provides an immediate, scalable, significant contribution to reducing the negative environmental impacts and commercial risks of natural rubber.

Bram van den Berg, COO / CFO
As COO, Bram has over 20 years in logistics, financial analysis, and asset management. Responsible for all operational aspects of Circular Rubber and for the foreseeable future this project will be one of the key activities. Bram will be the leading CRT senior executive overseeing the project on a day to day basis. As the CFO, Bram is responsible for the finances of Circular Rubber and financial projections.