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Rubber Journal Asia Materials

Biorubber on a roll The high levels of carbon emissions are also perpetuated by land conversions. The East-West centre research suggests that when primary or secondary forests are converted to rubber, carbon emissions are likely to increase. Thus, encroaching forest reserves for commercial plantations not only results in deforestation, it also releases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Forests are the largest terrestrial stores of carbon, according to Switzerland-headquartered conservation organisation World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Likewise, deforestation is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions after fossil fuel burning, causing 15% of GHG emissions.

The lucrative demand for rubber is taking a toll on forest areas in Asia. But tyre and car makers are taking action by developing the rubber-yielding potentials of plants and renewable materials, says Angelica Buan in this report.

Tyres tread on sustainability lagging threats to biodiversity has resulted in industries to consider other plant-based rubber alternatives that can be cultivated locally. Two industries: tyres and automotive sectors are large consumers of rubber. Tyres represent 70% of world rubber consumption; and the growth of the automotive industry increases demand for tyres. An analysis from industry information provider IHS Markit credits the shift to radial tyres as a significant contributor to the rise in natural rubber consumption over the past three decades or so. Radial tyres use a higher percentage of natural rubber than bias-ply tyres. While natural rubber from para rubber trees remains a key ingredient in tyres, stakeholders are, however, adopting sustainable rubber initiatives in the supply chain. With a primary goal to promote sustainably produced rubber, the IRSG, via its Sustainable Natural Rubber Working Group, has drawn out sustainability standards. The group has created the Sustainable Natural Rubber Initiative (SNR-i), which has set guidelines and criteria for best practices that organisations can choose to adopt. Working along the same line, US tyre maker Bridgestone and speciality materials company Yulex have also ventured into projects to drive sustainable alternatives to rubber since 2013.

Land conversions add on to problems he global consumption for natural rubber is expected to reach 19.4 million tonnes by 2020, according to the Singapore-based International Rubber Study Group (IRSG). As the natural rubber demand continues to be a brisk business, the multiplication of rubber plantations has permeated forest reserves, which are the natural habitat of many species of flora and fauna and wildlife. This is especially prevalent in Southeast Asia, purportedly the cradle of rubber production, accounting for 97% of the world’s natural rubber supply and, thus, the risks to habitat displacement are continuously increasing. A 2014 report by the US-funded independent, non-profit organisation East-West Centre disclosed that more than 1 million ha of land has been converted to rubber plantations. By 2050, it projects that the area under rubber trees in the regions of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as China’s Yunnan Province would increase fourfold. These land conversions have several environmental ramifications such as animal species being displaced. In a new study, Remotely Sensed Data Informs Red List Evaluations and Conservation Priorities in Southeast Asia, published recently, over 200 species of mammals, birds and amphibians have been newly identified as being at high risk in remote mountainous forests near India, Singapore and China. These are currently listed as threatened or endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Additionally, the study says that close to 40% of the species have less than 10% of their habitats protected from future development or deforestation. The displacement is also spurred by the conversion of some forest land into rubber and palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia.

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Tapping other sources for rubber n the quest for other plant sources of rubber, the dandelion and guayule plants stand out. Taraxacum kok-saghyz, also known as Russian dandelion, has fortunately a distinct edge as an alternative source. Unlike the para rubber tree, which can only be tapped for latex once it reaches about seven years of age, dandelions have the advantage of growing annually.

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4 O C TO B E R 2 016

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PRA October Issue 2016  
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