Is latex biodegradable ?
According to Statista in 2018 the worldwide consumption worldwide for natural rubber (latex) was approximately 13.77 million tonnes. Each rubber tree on average will produce 19 pounds of latex annually… That’s a lot of trees needed to keep up with consumer demands. For this reason, a synthetic latex has been produced. In this article we are going to investigate is latex biodegradable.
What is Latex?
Latex, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a milky fluid found in plants which exudes when the plant is cut and coagulates on exposure to the air. In other words, latex is harvested from rubber trees and is decomposed with the help of air and natural sunlight. Latex is the main source of natural rubber and is made from the sap of a rubber tree. The sap is harvested from the mature rubber tree and is then mixed with up to 40% water to create rubber. This unique material is found in many common household items that we use every day. Natural latex can be used to make things such as swim caps, balloons, rubber bands, mattresses and even chewing gum. While these are just a few of the uses for natural latex, artificial latex has been produced to create things such as glues and latex paint. The difference between artificial and natural latex is that artificial latex is made from man-made ingredients but maintains the molecular compound of natural latex.
Even though latex is one of the most common materials used in everyday life, it is also one of the most harmful to the environment. Do not get confused though. Natural latex by itself poses no harm to the environment and is completely biodegradable. However, it is when other ingredients are mixed with latex that the “latex product” is deemed harmful.
Where Does Latex Come From?
What Is Natural Latex?
What Latex Products Are Not Biodegradable and Why?
What does biodegradable mean? A substance or object that is biodegradable has the ability to decompose by bacteria or other living organisms. To qualify as biodegradable, the object has to be able to completely break down and return to the earth naturally. Generally, products must be able to decompose completely within a year or less to be classified as biodegradable. Biodegradable products are the best option for decomposition because the majority of biodegradable products are able to be broken down much faster than other materials. When broken down, biodegradable products turn into organic material, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. All of which do not harm the environment.
Many manufacturers of latex products such as balloons and gloves claim that their products are biodegradable. What they do not tell you is how long their products may take before they completely decompose. How do we, the consumers, know which products are safe for the environment and which ones will cause harm to our ecosystem? Below we will take a look at several examples of non-biodegradable products. We will also discuss why these products are not biodegradable.
• Latex Balloons- Balloon manufacturers have come up with the marketing gimmick that their balloons are created from natural latex and is environmentally friendly. While these balloons are made from natural latex, they are also made from artificial dyes, plastics, and chemicals. These “biodegradable” balloons are designed to burst after a reaching a certain height and fall to the ground in small pieces and decompose naturally. The truth is, when these balloons return to the earth, they rest in the form of litter. Although these balloons may decompose naturally, it may take up to six years for them to completely disappear. Let’s not forget that small balloon pieces can be seen as food to many animals on land and in the ocean.
• Latex Condoms- Despite the common theory that condoms are biodegradable, they are not. This misunderstanding comes from the fact that the majority of condoms are made from latex. However, just like balloons, condoms are not made from 100% all-natural latex. To be able to get the latex thin enough for condom use, other chemicals and ingredients are added to the compound that costs them their ability to be decomposed naturally.
• Rubber bands and tyres- While both rubber bands and tyres are created from natural rubber, I would not classify them as biodegradable. Technically, natural rubber has the ability to decompose naturally. However, rubber bands and tyres are often made up of several additives aside from natural latex. The rubber that makes up most rubber bands and tyres can take up to fifty years to biodegrade. It is recommended that rubber bands and tyres be recycled due to the amount of time needed to decompose and tyres take up space in landfills.
• Shoe soles- Most people do not realise the soles of their shoes may be a latex product that we do not always realise. Despite being a latex product, you should not throw your old shoes into the woods to disintegrate. Natural rubber is used in the making of soles due to its flexibility strength. However, when manufacturers combine other materials such as dyes and plastics, the soles lose their environmentally friendly properties.
• Mattresses- If you are trying to be as eco-friendly as possible and purchase a “latex mattress”, you may be thinking that your mattress is biodegradable. Latex foams are generally used to create latex mattresses. While there are some examples of biodegradable mattresses, the majority of them include other non-biodegradable materials and fabrics.
What Eco Alternatives Are Available?
As seen above, there are many objects that we use in our every-day lives that are not exactly eco-friendly. Listed below are several alternatives to non-biodegradable products.
• Unfortunately, there is no real physical substitute for balloons. However, if you’d like to see some alternatives to balloons for decorations please see this article. You may choose to decorate with pictures and signs. If you are planning on releasing balloons, bubbles are a more environmentally friendly alternative.
• Since condoms are the most common way to reduce the risk of pregnancy and transmitting sexually transmitted diseases, finding an eco friendly alternative is hard to do. Not only that, but the substitutes can be expensive. Birth control pills and surgeries such as a vasectomy are the best alternative to condoms when it comes to being eco friendly.
• Rather than allowing rubber bands to decompose, a safer alternative is to reuse them. For more information please see this article on elastic bands. Tyres can also be recycled for other purposes.
• Latex gloves provide a high amount waste in the service industry because they are not reusable. Also, they can be difficult to recycle. Reusable gloves are a better alternative to one-time-use latex gloves. Also, latex gloves can cause severe allergic reactions which is not seen on other materials.
Latex is a remarkable resource which is part of almost everyone’s everyday life. What we have learned above lets us know that latex is a natural resource which is used to create thousands of different consumer products. latex is in its natural form by itself is completely biodegradable. However to keep up with ever increasing consumer demands a synthetic rubber has been created which is not biodegradable.