In my quest to ensure that my project remains on track in respect of the third element – Rubber – I have delved back into research for some more inspiration and synergy with the overall project title. Yes peeps, the photos will come a little later.

I therefore went in search of information about the environmental impact of both natural rubber plantations and the production of synthetic rubber.

On the natural side of the house, I sourced an article by Fox, Castella, Ziegler and Westley on the environmental impact the expansion of rubber plantations in South East Asia which can be found here on the East-West Center website. This article found that there are a number of adverse environmental consequences that stem from the establishment of rubber plantations – in summary:

  • interference with the local water table and pollution;
  • degredation in soil quality through preparation and management (as opposed to the rubber trees themselves); and
  • potential climate change issues

This is contrasted with a UN Mission in Liberia report on rubber plantations. This report focuses more on the impact of rubber production on the local human environment. The report does date from 1 January 2006 so it is a decade old, but the issues it outlines are quite dire – in  summary :

  • overall poor living conditons, includings issues around health, water and sanitary conditions;
  • lack of knowledge of environmental protection and health & safety regulations by both managment and staff; and
  • lack of enforcement of environmental laws by the government

Six straightforward reccomendations were made for improvement… it would be interesting to know if any of them were implemented and reviewed for effectiveness?

On the synthetic side, things were not much better – in terms of impact. I found a few blogs and blog articles talking about the impacts of production of synthetic rubber. One website that succintly reduced it to 4 bullet points was Rerubber a tyre recycling business (albiet it was tyre specific). I quote the bullet points below (its a US site so they use the US English spelling of tyre) – this also brings into the debate issues around destruction/recycling/reuse:

  • “Tires are a breeding ground for mosquitoes – an ever alarming issue with the rise of the West Nile Virus. Download PDF.
  • Tires have potential for tire fires which produce acid smoke harmful to humans and the environment as well as leaves behind a oily residue. Tire fires are not extinguishable and in some instances burn for several weeks.
  • Tires take up landfill space and as land is becoming more and more scarce, it will lead towards illegal dumping. This drives down home values and causes socio-economic segregation as tires typically are dumped in low income areas.
  • Tires in landfills have led to worker injury and death. With the amount of negative space in tires, as they are compressed with more waste, they have a tendency to rebound to the surface, leading to tires rolling for falling onto workers.”  Rerubber website. 

The virus implications were a new one on me but you learn something new everyday. What is missing from the impacts outlined above is the recognition that synthetic rubber is made in part from petroleum and we are all aware of the environmental impacts of oil production – a nice segway into my project from Level 2, term 3 (Dreams and Reality – Oil, War and Freedom)

The final document, I looked at tonight was an interesting guidance document from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development  entitled: Sub-sectoral Environmental and Social Guideline: Manufacture of Rubber Products. This deals with both natural and synthetic rubber production and flags up many of the environmental impacts talked about in this blog post above. It does however look at things through the lens of business and investment.

So after all of this, where does this leave me in terms of the project? Good question and one I am still pondering. While I do not have a rubber plantation on my doorstep, I will exercise some creative latitude with that particular aspect. The articles have opened the door to expanding the approach I could take – e.g. pictures that can centre on water, oil, products, soil, pollution etc. However I choose to tackle it, I will have to be focused in making the link not just with the project title, but also my sub-themes. Wish me luck!

  1. Rubber Plantations Expand in Mountainous Southeast Asia: What Are the Consequences for the Environment?

    Jefferson M. Fox, Christophe Castella, Alan D. Ziegler and Sidney B. Westley

    2. Rubber Plantations – Special Report on the Environment

    UN Mission in Liberia

    3. Sub-sectoral Environmental and Social Guideline: Manufacture of Rubber Products

    European Bank for Reconstruction and Development


    Assignment criteria: 2