Amid rising concerns about the environmental and human threats posed by rubber, Bridgestone and Michelin lead the search for green alternatives
Rubber: ubiquitous and versatile. It’s in everything from tyres to chewing gum; condoms to golf balls. Millions of tonnes of natural and synthetic rubber are produced each year in a market worth billions. But is it sustainable?
The answer is no. Natural rubber prices are volatile, and there are very real climatic and environmental threats to production, along with concerns about the exploitation of workers and destruction of biodiversity.
Tyre makers, the biggest users of rubber, have been much slower than consumer goods companies, which depend on palm oil, to take a close look at their supply chains - an issue highlighted earlier this summer, when Michelin became the first tyre company to announce plans to source deforestation-free rubber.
Yet as researchers from the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences point out, rubber plantations cover about 70% of the land area occupied by oil palm. And almost the entire global supply of natural rubber – some 11 million tonnes in 2015 – comes from Southeast Asia, and is threatened by climate change and vulnerable to disease and environmental hazards.
An international research effort led by...