Raw Materials, Rubber Bands
Raw Materials Used in the Production of Rubber bands
Rubber bands have become a widely used tool in civilizations throughout the world. Rubber bands were first invented to hold papers or envelopes together, however they have had many uses throughout the years. The rubber band was first patented in England by Stephen Perry, on March 17th 1845. However Mesoamericans such as Mayans and Aztecs were using natural rubber as early as 1600 BC. In 1839, Charles Goodyear developed vulcanized rubber, which is most commonly used for the production of tires. Today, Rubber bands are used mostly as a household tool for clustering vegetables, grouping papers, closing food bags, and even completing DIY projects (11). Analysis of the rubber band lifecycle has shown that the way in which Rubber bands are made and the materials used, can greatly affect both the energy exerted during production and the waste emitted.
Rubber bands are made primarily with natural rubber, however production using synthetic rubber has become increasingly common. Natural rubber is the preferred material for producing rubber bands because it has more elasticity than synthetic rubber (2). Natural rubber is collected from the sap of rubber trees, Hevea Brasiliensis, which are usually found in low-level climate rainforests in places such as the Amazon region of South America (Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia), and Thailand. The trees take several years to mature before they are ready to be tapped. A harvester uses a hooked blade to make a slash in the tree’s bark. The sap spills out onto a metal spout, then funnels into a cup at the base of the tree. The sap continues to flow for about five to six hours. Harvesters wait a couple days, and then tap another section of the tree. Once sap is collected, it is strained to remove impurities, and poured into a plastic tub where formic acid is added. The sap then begins to coagulate, making it thick and sticky. The sap thickens to a dough like consistency, and is rolled out to remove excess water. It is then rinsed to remove formic acid, and hung to dry for about five hours. The drying time allows the rubber to harden and thicken. Once dry, the pellets of rubber are soaked in water to wash away any surface contaminants, then placed into a machine to be washed more thoroughly. A fire is built and the rubber is hung in a room above it for five days. This slowly heats the rubber with a low temperature to preserve it and prevent mold growth. After the rubber slabs have been dried out, workers cut out impurities such as bark and insects. The slabs are then graded based on quality, and grouped. The assignment of grade helps price the rubber, and produce a higher quality rubber, rather than mixing it all together. The stacks of rubber slabs are then pressed into cubes and sprayed with a calcium carbonate solvent to prevent mold and keep the cubes from sticking together. The cubes are then packaged and shipped to rubber band production factories (10).
Synthetic rubber was invented in response to a shortage of natural rubber during World War II. The most commonly used synthetic rubbers are styrene butadiene (SBR), polyacrylates, and polyvinyl acetate (PVA); other kinds include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polychloroprene (better known as neoprene), and various types of polyurethane (3). Synthetic rubber is a superior material compared to natural rubber when it comes to producing rubber bands because it requires less space and time to create. However, the production and usage of synthetic rubber has dangerous effects on the environment (9). The creation of synthetic rubber only takes six hours. It is produced using the raw material butadiene, which is a petroleum based liquid. Butadiene is mixed with a solvent, hexane, and combined with a catalyst to trigger the reaction. Chemicals are then pumped in the mixture to prepare the rubber for a specific use, in this case, rubber bands. The rubber is mixed and begins to harden. It is then dried by moving through a series of conveyor belts. After being analyzed and approved, the rubber is shaped into large bales and wrapped in plastic. After packaging, the rubber is ready to be shipped off (5).
Once the natural or synthetic rubber arrives at the rubber band manufacturing factory, it is ready to be transformed. Rubber processing oil is placed into a kneading machine, along with powdered pigment to add color. The most commonly used pigments are yellow and white to produce the trademark pale yellow rubber band. A worker then places rubber slabs into the machine. Spiral blades break up the rubber and blend ingredients. Mixing the rubber generates heat, causing the rubber to soften and form into a dough-like substance. Next, it is flattened out into thin wide pieces, and rolled into bundles. This makes it easier for workers to measure the correct amount of chemicals, based on the weight of the rubber bundles. The rubber is then mixed with sulfur and other chemicals to help strengthen it and increase elasticity. The rubber is then shaped into long hollow tubes. Talcum powder is pumped through the tubes to keep the walls from collapsing and sticking together, and to machinery. The tubes are heated to boost the tensile strength and elasticity. Tubes are fed into a rotating blade to consistently cut bands that are the same size. After rubber bands are cut and examined, they are packaged into plastic bags and ready for shipment (4).
The main areas of transport during the rubber band production process is when natural and synthetic rubber are transferred from the manufacturing plants to the rubber band factory. When natural rubber is extracted from rubber trees, it is usually processed on site. However, in order to create synthetic rubber, chemicals and raw materials must first be shipped by truck or plane to rubber manufacturing plants. Both natural and synthetic rubber is formed into uniform cubes during manufacturing. Most rubber manufacturing companies size the cubes to fit international regulations. This helps to standardize the storage size needed during transportation. Usually rubber is transported in large trucks, however it could also be shipped through air travel. The means of transportation depends on where the rubber is manufactured, and where it will be shipped. After the rubber bands are manufactured and packaged, they are usually distributed to various companies that then distribute them to consumers. However if a private company manufactures rubber bands themselves, rubber bands are distributed to consumers directly.
Natural rubber is the best fit for producing rubber bands, however, there is a limited supply of rubber trees. Synthetic rubber takes more energy to make and produces more waste, but it is more sustainable. Rubber band manufacturers prefer natural rubber over synthetic, however as the supply of natural rubber declines, they are forced to begin using synthetic rubber. The continued use of natural rubber is dependent on the maintenance and growth of rubber producing trees. A rubber tree takes a few years to grow before it can be ready to harvest, and at least a few days to actually harvest. If people are using up these trees faster than they can reproduce, the system can not be sustainable. As a result, the demand for rubber has caused people to rely more on synthetic rubber. Synthetic rubber is longer lasting than natural rubber, which decreases the necessity of reproduction. It also only takes about six hours to manufacture. Despite this, synthetic rubber is in high demand, so production rates continue to climb (8). Once the rubber bands are formulated, they can be used and reused over and over. Their lifespan can be long, however, various factors play a role in how long a rubber band lasts. Some factors include, elasticity, strength, and what it is used for. Because rubber bands are produced in such high numbers, they are usually purchased in bulk. As a result, rubber bands can be easily replaced if they are broken or lost.
There is currently no effective way of recycling rubber bands. There are some methods of reusing rubber products, such as tires, by melting down the rubber and reshaping it. Reclaiming rubber takes less energy than making rubber from scratch, however this process releases a large amount of toxins into the atmosphere (6). Most of the time, when rubber is placed into a recycling bin, it is filtered out because most recycling plants do not have the means to recycle rubber. It is a very specialized process, that is usually only used for tires(1). Rubber bands are not recycled in the traditional sense, however, they are often reused for various purposes throughout their lifetime. When shoppers purchase vegetables at the store, they may take off the rubber band that groups the vegetables and use it to close a chip bag. After the chips have all been eaten, the rubber band can then be used to group pencils. Once all the pencils have been worn down and used, the rubber band can be continually used until it finally snaps. At that point the user would throw away the band. Rubber bands are almost always either thrown away, or left somewhere as litter. Either way rubber bands ultimately end up as trash in the landfill (7).
The lifecycle of a rubber band seems very simple at first glance, however analysis has shown that it is actually quite complex. The extraction and production of synthetic rubber alone involvesnumerous materials, countless hours, high energy consumption, and a lot of waste. The small object is often overlooked in everyday life. It is important to take a closer look and recognize the effects that both rubber bands and rubber have on the Earth.
December 1, 2016
Word Count: 1,754
Rubber Bands: Embodied Energy
Rubber bands are a product that most of us use on a daily basis; they keep the newspaper in a tight roll every morning, they can be found holding together a bunch of carrots at the farmers market, or even stretched around a half eaten bag of chips. Despite their frequent use, rubber bands are often overlooked and thought of as insignificant due to their simple design and small size, and thus are consumed and disposed of without thought as to what went into making them. The goal of this paper is to bring to light the embodied energy used throughout the life cycle of the rubber band from the acquisition of the raw materials to their eventual disposal. In doing so, this paper will highlight the true significance of the energy used in the life-cycle of the rubber band that so often goes ignored.
The energy used to acquire the few raw materials that go into rubber bands can be substantial, requiring large amounts of chemical energy depending on the type of rubber used. Rubber bands are generally made from natural rubber due to its superior elasticity, but can also be made from synthetic rubber (Made How). Natural rubber is extracted from rubber trees such as Hevea brasiliensis by hand through a method known as tapping (Greve). In this process, a worker will cut the bark of the tree with a knife shallow enough as not to damage the inner cambium of the tree (Greve). The milky latex-containing sap is then collected, strained, and concentrated into blocks or sheets for cheaper transportation (Made How). The most commonly used and economical process to concentrate rubber is that of centrifuge, which separates the rubber from the “aqueous serum” contained in the collected sap (Greve). This process is done with a centrifuge machine which runs on electrical energy, with one model of this machine (Kingreat) having 11KW of power (Alibaba). After the rubber is condensed, it is rolled into sheets or slabs using a hand-powered rolling machine, making it ready for shipment (Made How).
While the collection of natural rubber relies mainly on man-power, the acquisition of the raw materials required to make synthetic rubber require much more energy in their collection and processing. One of the most common types of synthetic rubber is styrene-butadiene (SBR) rubber, which is made from styrene and butadiene, both of which are by-products of the petroleum refining process (Rubber Manufacturers Association). Petroleum is extracted from the earth as crude oil using large amounts of chemical energy. First, an oil well is drilled into the ground at the site of the oil deposit using chemical energy to power the drill, after which an oil rig is installed. The oil rig uses a large diesel engine which burns diesel-fuel to produce the primary power source for the rig (How Stuff Works). The diesel engine powers electric generators which produce the electrical energy required to power the mechanical systems of the rig, allowing the oil to be pumped to the surface and collected (How Stuff Works). Once the oil is collected, the refining process of petroleum begins by heating the crude oil within a column using thermal energy, changing it into gasses which are collected at various heights within the column (The Refinery Process). Substances with high boiling points remain in a liquid state and are collected from the bottom of the column (such as styrene), while those with low boiling points rise as gas to various levels within the column (butadiene) (The Refinery Process). Once the styrene and butadiene are collected, they are mixed with modifiers, activators, and a soapy emulsifier and placed into a polymerization reactor, causing them to react and form rubber particles (United States Environmental Protection Agency). Unreacted styrene and butadiene are extracted from this mixture for reuse while the formed rubber pieces are condensed and dried into slabs to be shipped out for use (United States Environmental Agency). This process uses far more chemical energy than the process used to collect natural rubber, and thus the embodied energy of a rubber band depends on the type of rubber from which it is formed.
Sulfur is another raw material involved in the production of rubber bands, and is used in the vulcanization process of both types of rubber. Sulfur is found in deposits below ground and can be extracted from the earth through mining (mechanical energy), but is more commonly and efficiently extracted using the Frasch process (Chemistry Explained). The Frasch process uses superheated water (up to 160° celsius) and pressurized air which is sent down into the earth through pipes to melt the sulfur deposit into a “soupy mixture of sulfur and water” (Chemistry Explained), which is then forced to the surface through another pipe where it is collected and cooled. Mechanical energy is needed to drill the well from which the sulfur is extracted, and thermal and mechanical energy are used to heat and pressurize the water and air used in the extraction process. Sulfur can also be extracted from crude oil or gas at a processing plant where is is considered an impurity in the raw material being harvested (Combs).
Once the raw materials are transported to the factory, they undergo several mechanical and chemical processes in order produce the rubber bands. Several machines are used at the factory, which are powered by electrical energy. Electricity is a secondary source of energy, meaning it must be created through the use of another primary energy source. While most electricity is created by burning coal, other primary sources of energy may be used, such as fossil fuels, wind, or water energy (How Electricity is Made). Because natural rubber arrives at the factory as blocks or sheets, it must be broken back down into a more malleable substance so that it can be shaped and mixed with various compounds. A machine is used to chop the rubber into smaller pieces before it is loaded into a mixing machine which combines the rubber with sulfur and other components (Made How). The mixed rubber is then placed into a milling machine, which heats the rubber and presses it flat (Made How). The rubber is then processed by an extrusion machine which forces the rubber into the tube shapes that will later be cut into many rubber bands. The tubes of rubber are then fit onto round pipes called “mandrels” and coated in talcum powder to prevent sticking before being heated and steamed in large machines. This heat treatment vulcanizes the rubber, improving its strength and elasticity (Made How). Finally, the tubes of rubber are removed from the mandrels and fed into a machine that slices them into rings (Made How). The completed rubber bands are then washed and packaged, ready to be sold. As a whole, the production of rubber bands relies heavily on both thermal energy and the conversion of chemical energy into electricity
A lot of energy is used to both transport the raw materials to the factories and to transport the finished rubber bands to the various stores in which they are sold. The raw materials used in the production of rubber bands, which include natural rubber, synthetic rubber, and sulfur, are acquired from different places around the world and thus require a decent amount of energy use in transportation to be delivered to the same factory in which the rubber bands are produced. The Hevea rubber trees from which natural rubber is made grow mainly in southeast Asia, with 24% of the worlds production coming from Malaysia alone (Greve). Petroleum, which contains the raw materials to produce synthetic rubber, can be extracted from a variety of places, including the United States. The United States also produces sulfur, and is one of the biggest sulfur producer in the world (Chemistry Explained). The raw materials are shipped across land and sea using barges, trains, and automobiles which use various forms of chemical energy to power their engines such as coal and gasoline. While it is difficult to find the exact amount of energy used in transportation, it is safe to say that, due to the distance that both the raw materials and finished product must travel, transport is a large source of energy usage in the life-cycle of the rubber band.
Rubber bands are very energy efficient during their use, as they require only a very small amount of kinetic energy to manually stretch around something. Rubber bands require no maintenance by the user, and can be reused over and over again until they wear out and break. With proper use, a single rubber band can have a long period of usefulness. The main concern in reusing rubber bands is that they will not be noticed or considered useful enough to be saved for later use and will be thrown away prematurely.
While rubber bands are highly reusable, once the rubber band is no longer in its original ring shape, it is no longer useful and must be thrown away. While rubber itself is recyclable, rubber bands are too small to be collected and recycled in an efficient way, as the effort to collect and recycle the broken bands would be greater that what it would take to simply dispose of the rubber and get a new rubber band. The energy used to dispose of waste products such as the broken rubber bands is primarily chemical, with gasoline powering the garbage trucks and other sources of chemical energy being used to power the many machines inside the waste-plants. Trash including rubber bands can be burned inside a boiler unit within the garbage plant to produce steam which is routed to a turbine engine to produce electricity (Waste Management).
In looking at the comprehensive use of energy throughout the life-cycle of the rubber band, one can see that even the products one wouldn't expect can have a large impact. Rubber bands, for example, use significant amounts of energy in their life time, particularly chemical energyand the various secondary energy sources it fuels. Most of this energy is from non-renewable sources such as coal, which highlights how our society relies on non-renewable energy sources for eve the simplest of products. In considering the embodied energy of all of the products we use, even those considered small and simple, we can better manage and conserve our energy usage and address the problems we face concerning the amounts and types of energy we unknowingly use daily.
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6) “Locating and Estimating Air Emissions from Sources of Styrene.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., 20 Apr. 1993. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <https://www3.epa.gov/ttnchie1/le/styrene.pdf>
7) Brown Paper Bag. "How Electricity Is Made." What Is Energy: How Electricity Is Made. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://www.solarschools.net/resources/stuff/how_electricity_is_made.aspx>.
8) What Does Waste Management Do with Trash, Anyway?We Collect It from Nearly (n.d.): n. pag. Waste Management. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <https://www.wm.com/about/community/pdfs/follow_the_waste_stream.pdf>
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Waste production, Rubber Bands
Rubber Band Waste Life Cycle
Not a lot people realize the necessity of rubber bands. One might go through the day and not give a second thought about how much different companies and products use rubber bands. Most of the vegetables at a local grocery store are held together by rubber bands. Post Offices are another example of companies that rely on rubber bands for a lot of day to day things. There are a lot more examples that show how much we use rubber bands but don’t notice it. Since rubber bands are used in so many products we decided to examine more closely what it takes to make it and how much waste is produced. After examining the waste production in all the steps of the life cycle of rubber bands, we discovered that there is a greater amount of waste during the initial steps of production compared to the amount of waste the final product.
The initial step of the life cycle is the acquisition of the raw materials that will be used in the production of the rubber band. There are two different raw material that are used for production of rubber bands, which are natural rubber and synthetic rubber. “The raw material used for the production of natural rubber is “white milky fluid” called latex taken from the latex vessels of rubber trees, which can be categorized as field latex, scrap, soil lump, and bowl lump” (Hilbert 1). The Direct Marketing P. G. Inc. states that latex is mostly composed of water with small traces of resin, protein, sugar, and mineral matter (4). Latex is gathered from a tree called Hevea brasiliensis. The tree contains the latex towards the center in one of the tubes and in order to get to the latex the tree has to be cut. “The rubber is extracted with solvents and separated from resins. The rubber is then processed further in a process that can be automated extensively” (Heinz-Hermann 3). This, however, does not produce waste because the cuts that are made in the tree do not damage the tree a great deal, meaning that it is able to recover.
The step that produces waste in the acquisition of raw material is the washing and treating the latex. “Latex collected from the field is pre-treated such as screen, wash and ammonia addition before processing” (Hilbert 1). This process creates waste water that contains a high concentration of ammonia, which is dangerous for the surrounding environment. In to waste produced from treating the latex there is greater amount of waste produced from the factories that are built in order to initially treat the latex. Hilbert mentioned in his paper that there are always factories located around plantation that contain Hevea brasiliensis or rubber trees (1). Hilbert also states that over time the demand fro rubber increased, therefore, the plantation size and waste amount from the factories are also increasing (1).
The next step of the life cycle is the manufacturing, processing and formulation of the rubber bands. While the raw material for rubber bands comes from a natural source, manufacturing and processing the latex requires a number of different chemicals. “The major pollutants and waste from the NR (natural rubber) processing factory have high organic content and emit offensive smells due to the biodegradation of the organic matter” (Harunsyah et al. 7). While some chemicals are incorporated into the rubber itself, a lot of these chemicals do not remain in the rubber but are eventually washed out and transfer into the waste water. “Natural rubber processing sector consumes large volumes of water and energy and uses large amount of chemicals as well as other utilities. It also discharges massive amounts of wastes and effluents. The most common environmental issues are wastewater containing chemicals and smell, hazardous waste, noise, and thermal emission” (Hilbert 1).
While gathering the latex from the rubber tree there are usually a lot of different impurities that also get gathered with the latex. Initial treatments and processing of the latex gets rid of the impurities. Some ofthese impurities include tree sap and debris. These impurities are not discarded as waste but as stated by The Direct Marketing P.G. Inc. they are combined with formic acid to form slabs (4). “The slabs are squeezed between rollers to remove water and pressed into bales or blocks usually 2 or 3 square feet” (Direct Marketing P.G. Inc. 4). There is a large amount of water that is involved in wishing out the impurities initially, so the waste that is formulated in this step is mostly waste water. In addition, other processes that generate a lot of waste water are, as said by Hilbert, are “size reduction, digestion, washing, and drying” (1).
As stated before, in the begging when latex is gather from the rubber tree it is initially treated with ammonia. This process forms a large amount of waste water that has a high concentration of ammonia. “Most of the concentrated latex factories in the South of Thailand discharge treated wastewater that contains high level of nitrogen & ammonia to a nearby river or canals leading to a water pollution problem. If high level of ammonia is discharged to water bodies, it could lead to death of some aquatic organisms living in the water” ( Hilbert 1).
In addition to treating the latex with different chemicals that form wast water with high concentration of those chemicals, another waste product that is formed is skim latex. As stated by Hilbert, skim latex can be coagulated, or turned into a solid, either spontaneously or by acid treatment or more concisely sulfuric acid(1). In addition Harunsyah talks about how the fact that there is little rubber present in the skim latex and yet so many chemical are added, the waste that is formulated from this process is especially polluting (7). This happens because the sulfate originates from sulfuric acid which will be liberated to the environment (Hilbert 1). “In latex concentrated factories, the main sources of effluent are the skim latex serum and washings from all process equipment” (Harunsyah et al. 7). In addition, the coagulated skim latex can also be a waste product itself. When these compounds are discarded as waste they are usually not treated because they are biodegradable, however they consume a high amount of oxygen (Hilbert 1).
The following step of the waste life cycle of rubber band is distribution and transportation. Rubber trees that are used in the natural production of rubber bands are acclimated to hot and humid climates. So the majority of the latex that is used in the rubber band production comes from Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia (Direct Marketing P.G. Inc. 4). The waste that is produced fro distribution comes from the type of transportation that is used to transport the latex. The majority of transportation machines use diesel or gas as their energy source so the waste comes from burning those products.
The nest step of the life cycle is the waste produced during use and maintenance of the rubber band. The only waste product that is formed during the maintenance of the rubber band is the rubber band itself when it become useless and is tossed out as waste. While there is no additional work required to maintain and use a rubber band, meaning that there is no waste produced, there are factors beforehand that determine how long the rubber band lasts. One way to determine how long the rubber band will last is to determine its PRI, which a lot of companies due in order to stay competitive. “It gives an indication of the expected aging properties and of the mixing viscosity, which is in turn related to tensile strength, dynamic properties such as rebound resilience, and hysteresis” (Heinz-Hermann 3). The way to determine the PRI the rubber has to be heated to 140 degree Celsius for 30 minutes in order to determine the plasticity before and after. These measurement are later used in a fraction to determine The PRI (Heinz-Hermann 3). This process produces thermal waste in the form of heat that is coming off from the machine that is used to heat up the rubber.
The fifth step of the rubber band life cycle is the production of waste during the recycling process. Recycling of rubber is a very difficult process. “Thermosetting materials like rubbers on processing and molding are cross linked, and therefore cannot be softened or remolding by heating again.” (Adhikari et al. 2). There two possible ways the rubber band can be recycle and these processes are physical and chemical recycling. “In a physical reclaiming process scrap/waste rubber products is reclaimed with the help of external energy. Thus in physical reclaiming process three-dimensional network of cross linked rubber breaks down in presence of different energy source” (Adhikari et al. 2). Later the broken down product can be incorporate in different rubber processing stem. The waste that is formed during the physical recycle of rubber bands is thermal energy from the heating which acts as an external energy source. The second possible way to recycle rubber bands is through a mechanical process. “In mechanical reclaiming process crumb rubber is placed in an open two-roll mixing mill and milling is carried out at high temperatures. In this process drastic molecular weight breakdown takes place due to mechanical shearing at high temperatures” (Adhikari et al. 2). Just as in the other process the waste that if formed from the mechanical process is also thermal waste.
Lastly the last step of throbbed band waste life cycle is the waste management. The number one waste that is produced from rubber band is rubber bands themselves. Since recycle rubber bands is a difficult most of the rubber bands go to the landfill and remain as waste. While people are constantly working on a better way to manage rubber waste, there is still not a clear way to do so.
While most of the rubber band use natural rubber for the production there are some companies that use synthetic rubber. It was impossible, however, to find any valuable information on synthetic rubber.
In conclusion after examining the waste production in all the steps of the life cycle of rubber bands, we discovered that there is a greater amount of waste during the initial steps of production compared to the amount of waste the final product. The waste in the initial steps is more chemical and most of the time is in the waste water. While the waste in the last steps of the life cycle is more physical. Both waste products have a negative effects on the environment and both waste products are hard to eliminate or reuse. The chemical waste products are polluting the water stream and the soils around the factories that are producing the latex that is used for rubber band. On the other hand, the rubber band themselves are disposed as waste at landfill which are taking up a lot space and also destroy the ecosystem around them.