Where Does Rubber Come From?
Natural rubber is made from latex, the milky liquid that is found in many kinds of trees and plants. Latex can be seen oozing from the broken stem of a dandelion. Some scientists believe that this liquid latex sap, contained in rubber trees, is actually a defense mechanism to deter predators, such as insects and microorganisms from wounding the tree.
Most latex for producing rubber comes from huge plantations of rubber trees that grow in very hot lands, such as the East Indies. To get the latex, workers cut slits in the tree bark and let the watery latex drip into cups. After around six hours, it stops flowing. During this six hours, a gallon (3.7 liters) of latex drips out. The next day, you can make another cut to get more latex.
The latex is then taken to the rubber factory. There, it is heated and mixed with sulfur and lead oxide. This process causes the latex to coagulate, or thicken, into crude rubber so that it can be used for a wide range of products.
Earlier people would let the latex dry and they would make balls from it. They’d dip their feet in it, let it dry, dip their feet again, and let it dry, etc., until the dried latex was thick enough to be shoes. They’d peel the shoes off their feet and hold them in smoke to make them stronger.
Where does rubber come from today? Only about 30% of rubber in the current market originates from tropical trees. However, some products such as airplane tires and car tires still require a high percentage of natural rubber.
As chemists and scientists continue to explore new methods of synthesizing rubber and rubber polymers, the percentage of natural rubber in commercial use may continue to decrease, a trend that may ultimately prove beneficial to the tropical rain forests.