Sustainability in the Rubber Industry

You may have not given it much thought, but it is difficult to go about life today without relying on some kind of rubber component to do its job. Rubber tires, gaskets, and seals all allow your car to take you to work or the grocery store. The seal on your refrigerator door ensures that it stays cold and prevents the cool air from escaping. Many of us charge our mobile phones with electrical cords wrapped in a rubber casing to prevent damage to the wires.

Giving End-of-Life Products a Second Chance

Unfortunately, at the end of many of these product’s life cycles, these components can be discarded and destined for a landfill where, in the case of used tires especially, they take up a lot of room. This quickly became a problem – according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, by the year 1990, approximately 1 billion scrap tires were in stockpiles in the United States. Since 1990, over 93% of the known scrap tire stockpiles have been remediated and most states have scrap tire recycling programs to discourage the creation of new sites. By the end of 2015, about 67 million scrap tires remained in stockpiles in the United States.

The number of stockpiled scrap tires in the United States since 1990
The number of stockpiled scrap tires in the United States since 1990

Scrap tires get a second chance to be turned into something useful again by typically being broken down to crumb or powdered rubber. After being mechanically grinded down into this smaller form, it is used in many things like artificial turfs, rubber mulch, and rubberized asphalts.

Recycled tires can also even be used for molding new rubber products. Micronized rubber powders can be compounded back into new, unvulcanized rubber recipes to be molded into a new part.

Tires waiting to be broken down by a tire shredder
Tires waiting to be broken down by a tire shredder

More Sustainable Manufacturing Practices

Much can be said about recycling the end products of the rubber industry but how can the rubber industry and its supply chain conduct its manufacturing practices more sustainably?

Injection molding and the manufacture of rubber requires a lot of energy. Rubber vulcanization requires heating larges presses to roughly 350 degrees Fahrenheit which uses much energy. Much work has been done in order to save energy when curing rubber. In one study, it was found that low temperature cure (LTC) rubber compounds are capable of curing around 220 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing for energy savings of over 30%.

The industry also needs to be conscious of the environmental consequences of its supply chain as well. Suppliers to the industry are becoming more aware of the need for new sustainable ways of creating raw ingredients for rubber compound formulation. In particular, one of the most popular fillers for rubber compounds is carbon black. Traditionally, creating carbon black has been an energy-intensive process however now companies have emerged that create carbon black using new processes that use way less energy. Specifically, Monolith is a carbon black producer whose process reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 97% (1 million tons) compared to traditional carbon black manufacturing.

The Future is Bright

As long as the industry continues to stay aware of its role in sustainable manufacturing, rubber products everywhere will continue to be less taxing on the environment.

Wayne Rubber specializes in sustainable rubber manufacturing. Reach out to us today to see how we can come up with a sustainable rubber product for you!

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