(Natural) rubber is the term used for elastic polymers that are based on vegetable products, particularly tree resin (rubber milk or latex). Latex is mainly used for the production of rubber via vulcanisation. The main source (about 90 per cent) is the rubber tree (Hevea). Rubber is obtained by tapping this tree, i.e. an oblique cut is made in the bark. Latex flows out of this cut into a container positioned underneath. A rubber tree is tapped about 165 times a year on average.
The oldest known objects made of rubber come from the period around 1600 BC. The indigenous peoples of Central America were already using rubber at this time to make solid balls, hoses and containers as well as for the waterproof coating of fabric. Many years were to go by before this valuable rubber raw material was to become the versatile modern material that we call rubber today. In 1839, Goodyear and Hancock discovered vulcanisation independently of each other. This is a process for the production from rubber with added sulphur of a material that does not get brittle when cold and does not go soft when hot. Rubber as we know it was born. The main countries that produce natural rubber nowadays include Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Today, about 60 per cent of global demand for rubber is covered by petrochemically manufactured synthetic rubber. In view of the depletion of oil reserves, the renewable alternative might well take the lead again in the near future, however.