Latex comes from humble beginnings. It was harvested in liquid form from the Hevea Brasiliensis tree by Latin American tribes in 1600 BC. Centuries later, it made its way around the world in the 1800s. With an annual consumption of nearly 6 million tonnes today, latex has grown to be a resource we can’t live without.
And since it comes from trees, it would make sense that latex would be biodegradable and eco-friendly. Right?
Unfortunately, that may not actually be the case.
Confused or concerned? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
In this article, we’ll be covering key aspects of latex and its impact on the environment. By the time you finish this article, you might be surprised by what you’ve learned.
So with that said, let’s just jump right in!
Is Latex Biodegradable? What You Need To Know.
First off, let’s answer the big question. The one that you probably came here for.
Is Latex Actually Biodegradable?
Yes, natural latex is 100% biodegradable. It is broken down by several species of the microbe genera including Actinomycetes, Streptomyces, Nocardia, Micromonospora, and Actinoplanes.
However, the rate of biodegradation is fairly slow due to the fact that the growth rate of bacteria from the consumption of latex is also slow.
Basically, latex rubber isn’t that great of a food source for bacterial colonies and it takes longer for it to break down as a result. It can take anywhere from 6 months to 4 years for latex to fully decompose.
But compared to plastics that can last centuries before breaking down, this is definitely much better for the environment.
Pretty simple, right? Seems like an open-shut case.
But what we’ve said really only applies to natural latex rubber that has undergone little to no chemical treatment.
And unfortunately, this seems to be the case with a lot of materials that claim to use “natural” latex.
Latex is often treated with ammonia and with tetramethyl thiuram disulfide plus zinc oxide. The combination of these chemicals and more act as a preservative against bacterial decomposition, which is crucial for ensuring the longevity of any product that uses latex rubber.
We understand why this is done. You really don’t want latex rubber to biodegrade when it’s used for car tires, plane tires, bus tires, hoses, foam mattresses, and as an adhesive.
But this doesn’t change the fact that chemically-treated latex is NOT biodegradable.
The very definition of something being biodegradable means that it can be decomposed back into natural elements (usually carbon and water) through bacterial consumption. Preservatives stop bacteria from doing just that.
Sneaky companies will claim that their product is made with “natural latex” when, in reality, it is “natural latex” that’s been chemically modified. The only way to tell for sure is if the company openly claims that its latex is 100% biodegradable with no added preservatives.
Is Latex Eco-Friendly?
Despite popular belief, even natural latex isn’t all that eco-friendly once it’s harvested from a tree. While it’s true that latex can biodegrade in a few months (optimistically), there are several negative eco-impacts that can still happen.
Think about it. The main producer of latex, the Hevea brasiliensis tree, makes latex as a defense against insects. It’s literally designed to stop an organism from feeding.
If you take a chunk of that latex rubber and toss it into a natural environment, it can cause issues similar to that of plastics. The main issue is that animals can die after consuming it post-consumer processing.
And since it takes 6 months to 4 years for even natural latex to break down, there is plenty of time for animals to be affected.
Don’t forget about the trees, too! By draining them of their latex, they are left defenseless against problematic insects and herbivores that would normally be kept at bay. These trees can die from being attacked by these organisms.
As for synthetic or otherwise chemically-treated latex rubber, toxins can be released into the soil and surrounding environment once the rubber eventually starts to break down.
Remember, just because something is biodegradable doesn’t mean that it’s eco-friendly.
What Are Our Options For Being Eco-Friendly with Latex?
Here are a few ways to go green with latex.
1. Keep Latex Out Of Landfills And Natural Environments.
When latex ends up in a landfill, it takes far longer for it to biodegrade. This is because landfills lack both the environmental and bacterial factors required for biodegradation. It’s almost like freezing your trash in time; that’s what a landfill does.
And for reasons listed earlier, you don’t want to litter the ground with latex. The impacts that latex can have on animals and the environment can really bad.
We want to stress this point for you balloon enthusiasts out there. DO NOT RELEASE BALLOONS INTO THE SKY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. This can not only harm natural life but also disrupt power lines (causing electrical problems for many, many people) and cause a host of other issues.
If still want to use balloons, then consider getting some biodegradable balloons. They are guaranteed to break down over time, unlike other balloons brands.
Just make sure to reuse or compost them after you are done. You still don’t want to release these balloons, as they can be just as damaging as regular balloons.
2. Recycle Your Latex Items
Most people use latex through their gloves and masks, especially during the pandemic. TerraCycle will recycle your disposable latex items for a fee.
This is a great option considering that most local landfills won’t recycle latex items. And if TerraCycle doesn’t work for you, then look up local companies. There may be some places near you that will take latex off your hands.
If you decide to do this, make sure that your items are clean before recycling. Many waste processing plants will not recycle dirty items and will instead toss them into a landfill.
Which is bad. Obviously.
3. Stick With Vulcanized Rubber.
Vulcanized rubber is natural latex that has undergone a process by which the rubber is heated and sulfur, peroxide, or bisphenol. This improves the latex’s elasticity, resistance, and longevity.
What’s great about vulcanized rubber is that it’s still biodegradable. The bacteria Streptomyces coelicolor, Pseudomonas citronellolis, and Nocardia spp. are capable of degrading vulcanized natural rubber, unlike chemically-treated or synthetic rubber.
Just make sure to treat it like natural latex. Try to reuse and recycle. Keep it out of landfills and the environment.
4. Compost Your Latex Items
One of the best options for being eco-friendly with your latex is to compost it. You can find out the steps on how to do it in this post.
By composting your latex, you can create a nutrient-rich mulch that’s great for gardens and plants. And if you don’t have a need for your compost, you can always donate it to a local farmer. They can never have too much compost!
And yes, this works with biodegradable balloons too. Composting your items is safe, easy, fun, and useful!
Let’s summarize the key points:
- Natural latex is biodegradable over the course of 6 months to 4 years.
- Chemically-treated or synthetic latex is not biodegradable.
- Latex is not considered eco-friendly on its own, but there are ways to make its use more eco-friendly.
- Never release your balloons. Even biodegradable ones.
- Composting is awesome!
Ultimately, latex is here to stay. It’s up to us to make sure that it is properly reused, recycled, or disposed of in eco-friendly ways.
So when a company says that you can just throw their product away since it is uses “100% biodegradable latex”, make sure to do a little digging and see if that claim actually stands.
By doing so, you help create a greener world. And we would love all the help we can get!
That concludes our article! Now you can spread the word on how biodegradable (and eco-friendly) latex actually is.
Or you can just send them to this article 😉 .
Questions, comments, concerns, or just wanna chat? Leave a comment below and we’ll get right back to you. We’d love to hear from you all.
If you like this article, check out some of our others too:
- Is Gum Biodegradable? The Sticky Truth Revealed.
- Is Paper Biodegradable? The Answer May Surprise You…
- Is Cardboard Biodegradable? Everything You Need To Know.
- Is Glass Biodegradable? The Answer is Definitely Surprising.
- Is “It” Biodegradable? Easy Cheat Sheet for Popular Products
As always, thanks for reading! We appreciate you stopping by!
Let’s all continue to strive for a greener, better way of living!