Sustainability and tyre industry
By David Shaw
Editors ask me to write a column each issue on sustainability as it relates to the global tyre industry. I sometimes wonder how anyone can do that without referring every now and then to natural rubber (NR). Unfortunately most people in the tyre industry are turned right off by discussions about NR.
I can understand that.
For anyone in India or south-East Asia, the balance between the production of NR and its consumption is a delicate one.
On one hand the farmers who produce the stuff want prices to be high. There are a lot of farmers and they the price of rubber tends to be a good indicator of whether they vote with, or against the government. This brings a big political dimension to the debate.
On the other, tyre makers – for whom NR can make up 25% of all costs – want the price to be low, because that tends to mean bigger profits.
The endless politicking that goes on around this debate is, frankly, boring to any but those directly involved in the discussions, and then it is fascinating.
Yet NR is, by far, the most important material by volume going into the tyre industry. Not only that, but it is, by its very nature a natural product with all the variability and lack of standardisation that implies.
NR is one of the constraints in production engineers who seek to make the process as repeatable as possible.
NR is bought and sold differently from all other materials used by the tyre industry.
NR is the key to sustainability from social, environmental and economic perspectives.
There is a fundamental issue about the long-term sustainability of the NR industry.