The International Rubber Study Group aims to set up a voluntary certification program and standards for sustainable natural rubber, a $30 billion a cash crop, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Skyrocketing demand in the last decade and led to record-high prices and new rubber plantations outside of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for more than two-thirds of the world’s natural rubber supply, the newspaper reports. And with rapid plantings in new areas such as Cambodia and Laos come environmental concerns.
The Singapore-based Rubber Study group is made up of more than 30-member governments, producer groups and consumers such as tire companies. It’s trying to balance the growing demand for natural rubber with the environmental impacts of rubber plantations, which can lead to habitat loss and disrupt water movement. But because the vast majority of rubber production comes from small growers, the fragmented industry hasn’t been able to agree on industry-wide sustainability standards, the newspaper reports.
The study group’s senior economist and statistician Lekshmi Nair spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the group’s sustainability goals. She says 85 percent of natural rubber production comes from small growers while the tire industry consumes 70 percent of the crop. This imbalance signals the need for a commitment from both sides in the form of a memorandum, Nair says.
Nair says the group wants the producers to commit to efficient resource management and purchasing sustainable raw materials. Major consumers — such as tire companies — must commit to procuring sustainably grown natural rubber, Nair tells the newspaper.
The group hopes to get all stakeholders to commit to signing a sustainability memorandum and achieving certain standards by the World Rubber Summit in 2014, Nair says.
Earlier this year, Bridgestone Americas and agricultural-based biomaterials company Yulex both announced projects to investigate the use of the shrub guayule as an alternative natural rubber source.
Bridgestone, which opened its Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa, Ariz., in May, says the first rubber samples for tire evaluations are expected in mid-2015. Also in May Yulex announced it will award the University of Arizona a $3 million, five-year grant focused on the breeding and agronomic development of guayule for the production of biorubber used in medical, consumers and industrial products.
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