The wonder material we all need but is running out – BBC Future
In late 2019, the International Tripartite Rubber Council warned the global supply would fall short by one million tonnes (900,000 tons) in 2020, around 7% of production. Then the pandemic hit.
Demand reduced immediately, and driven miles – the key measure for ultimate demand for rubber – dropped as countries went into lockdown. But rubber soon bounced back. “Demand outpaced even the most bullish predictions,” says Meyer. As they came out of lockdown, Chinese citizens bought huge numbers of new cars, thanks to fears around the safety of public transport. Similar patterns are expected globally. “Demand has since eclipsed supply,” says Meyer. “Now there is an acute shortage (of rubber) in destinations, and inventory held by tyre makers is very low.”Although synthetic rubber can be produced from petrochemicals, natural rubber has unique properties which even these synthetics can’t match: natural latex gloves are more resistant to tear than nitrile ones, while aircraft tyres use natural rubber for its high elasticity and resistance to heat, which can build up from friction during landing.
And once the rubber shortage begins to bite and prices climb, farmers will be incentivised to clear tropical rainforest to plant more rubber. Although palm oil plantations have received far more attention, rubber plantations can be just as bad for biodiversity loss, according to Warren-Thomas.