The practice of recycling rubber is not a new one. As a matter of fact, we can trace this practice back more than 270 years when a French astronomer brought home samples of rubber after a trip to Peru. This milky fluid collected from trees was used for lighting. And believe it or not the people of Peru made shoes from this rubber that were waterproof.
As the human race goes, there is always someone out there looking to take a product and find a new use for it. What led up to this discovery is not chronicled, but a writer discovered that if you took this material from the shoe, it could be used to erase pencil marks. Rubber recycling as we know it had begun.
In the 1800’s the recycling craze really took off as people in the U.S. were first introduced to shoes made of rubber (yes, almost 100 years after first reported). A few inventive individuals decided that if the soles were melted down they could make waterproof jackets and hats as well (this turned out to be a not so good idea as little to no research and development took place). Sales were brisk….until on one rainy day those who wore these new waterproof jackets experienced what would happen when the rain stopped and the sun started to shine. The rubber worked fine in the climate of Peru and other countries that used this product, but when it was melted and formed into thin sheets used for clothing, when the hot sun hit this thin rubber, the clothes melted right off the backs of those who wore them. When winter came, those who still had some of this rubber outerwear faced some additional adversity – thin rubber and frigid cold made the clothes as brittle as a thin sheet of glass – the clothes simply shattered as the temperatures dropped.
After vulcanization was discovered, accidentally, the products got better and rubber recycling kept on rolling to where we are today. Some innovative modern day inventors have picked up the charge and now recycled rubber is all around us in the form of: mulch, welcome mats, sidewalks, hand bags, jackets, flooring, backpacks, shingles, flower pots, stepping stones, buckets, briefcases, speed bumps, coasters, mouse pads, sandals, coffee tables and yes, still shoes (sort of takes us back full circle doesn’t it?).
Rubber is just one of the many substances in the world that continues to get a new lease on life. It is a resource, and one that can serve many purposes both today and in the future. It has helped take us on family vacations around the world, kept our children safe when used as a playground covering and cushioned our feet for millions of baseball, soccer and football games.
I can only imagine what new and inventive products will fill the shelves in the coming years as people around the world utter the same phrase…”I wonder if?”