Governments, NGOs, academics and manufacturers are seeking ways to meet growing demand for tyres without destroying biodiversity, in light of a warning over the impact of rubber plantations
Forecasts of an increasing need for natural rubber, fuelled by a soaring demand for tyres, have prompted researchers at the UK’s University of East Anglia to warn of the “catastrophic” impact of additional rubber plantations on endangered species in south-east Asia.
A study published in April by UEA’s School of Environmental Science predicts that up to 8.5m hectares of additional rubber plantations will be required to meet the demand by 2024. Lead researcher Eleanor Warren-Thomas is calling on governments, growers, NGOs and the tyre industry to create more sustainable ways to grow and process rubber.
“The tyre industry consumes 70% of all natural rubber grown, and rising demand for vehicle and aeroplane tyres is behind the recent expansion of plantations,” Warren-Thomas says. “The impact of this is a loss of tropical biodiversity.”
Fazilet Cinaralp, secretary general of the European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers Association (ETRMA), disputes the findings, claiming that while tyre demand will be an ongoing issue, the current rubber crop should be sufficient to meet the need until 2024.
The UEA study focuses on four critical biodiversity areas in which rubber plantations are expanding – Sundaland (the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali), Indo-Burma (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, most of Myanmar...