The following article will supply you with everything you need to know about natural rubber latex and our pure natural rubber latex products - interested? Keep reading!
The Royal World of Vita Talalay’s pure Natural Rubber Latex
Pure Natural Rubber Latex
Have you ever wondered how it is possible for natural rubber latex to turn into a pure natural Talalay mattress? And who exactly discovered rubber? As a matter of fact, what is the difference between natural rubber latex and natural rubber? This article will give you an understanding of all that and much more. At the end, we even include some fun facts about rubber!
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The difference between latex, natural rubber, natural rubber latex and dry natural rubber
To fully understand the process of how to make natural rubber latex, it may be useful to understand the difference between latex, natural rubber, natural rubber latex and dry natural rubber. In many cases, people are unaware of the differences, and in turn often decide to use these words interchangeably.
Latex is any water-based liquid polymer, which could also be in a viscous state. In turn, this also means that the word latex does not directly refer to the natural rubber latex from the rubber tree.
Natural Rubber Latex Extraction
Natural rubber includes all materials containing or made from natural rubber latex. In turn, this means natural rubber latex, dry natural rubber, along with both synthetic rubber and latex containing natural rubber all belong to natural rubber.
Natural rubber latex
This is the milky fluid that is commonly known to many as latex. This liquid is carved out of the rubber tree and contains tiny particles of rubber. This liquid is the main ingredient for our pure natural Talalay latex and many other latex products.
Dry natural rubber
Dry natural rubber is one of the products resulting from processing the white liquid of the rubber tree into milled or dry sheets. It is, in essence, the dried natural rubber latex.
A brief history of natural rubber latex
According to several sources, Christopher Columbus can be credited to finding and bringing rubber around the globe during his voyages to the new world. During the second trip to the new world in 1493, he noticed that several people in Haiti were playing with a bouncing ball made from the gum of the rubber tree. The natural rubber was named “ca-wuchu”, which roughly translated means “weeping wood”. The seedlings of the rubber tree were then transported to England from the Amazon and then spread further around the globe in later years to Ceylon and Singapore. This is where the first larger rubber tree farms were planted.
However, the most important discovery about rubber was the so-called vulcanization process of Mr. Charles Goodyear which only came centuries later. Before this discovery, rubber was not the same as we know it today due to the lack of it’s weatherproof properties. This meant that the formable mass would freeze to rock during winter, and melt into a sticky goo in summers. In 1844, after more than a decade of experimenting with the white liquid from the latex tree, Mr. Charles Goodyear discovered that steam under pressure, applied between 4 to 6 hours at around 270 degrees Fahrenheit, created the rubber as we know it today - this process was coined vulcanization, after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. Rubber was now weatherproof and would not lose its shape or form during temperature shifts. Shortly after, many new latex products which are normal to us today began to emerge, such as the raincoat or eraser.
Today, the rubber industry produces approximately 16 million tons of rubber worldwide, of which natural rubber latex accounts for about 10% of the total. The central regions for the latex production are spread throughout South East Asia, South America and Africa.
On average, the yield per hectare is between 1.2 and 1.5 tons per acre depending on the country and region. This is mostly due to fluctuations in weather conditions, especially the amount of rainfall per year. A further interesting fact is that the rubber trees have been cultivated throughout history all around the world, meaning that they have been cloned without being modified on a molecular level. However, the rubber trees have been made to be more resistant to disease and increase yield to reduce the demand for farmland.
Important to note is that in the past decade, the rubber and natural rubber latex industry has been pushed towards the creation, as well as maintenance of sustainable production channels and fair trade products. Although the beginning was hard, especially for the natural rubber latex industry due to it's size in comparison to the natural rubber industry. The tire industry, which accounts for 70% of the rubber industry, began to back these ideals and push the manufacturers and producers into gaining specific certifications and awards related to sustainability. Also, the industry aids in developing infrastructure and employment in these fairly rural areas where the majority of the farms can be found. Due to this, the natural rubber and natural rubber latex industry has been able to aid in working with child labor. Since natural rubber latex spoils in a matter of hours unless processed (similar to milk), these factories must not only be fairly close to urban areas but must also have a well set up infrastructure themselves. This, in turn, means that vital facilities and services, such as schools and transportation, are much more developed in these areas. For example, the school attendance rate in such areas in Thailand is over 90,5%.
Regions of production
South East Asia
Thailand is currently the biggest producer of natural rubber latex around the world by producing more than 600.000 tons of natural rubber latex every year. An interesting fact is that the vast majority of the farms, approximately 97% of them, are only 1-2 hectares large. In agricultural terms, this is known as the small holder structure. On average, there are about 700 trees per farm site. In addition, the FSC is strongly emerging throughout the country within the natural rubber and natural rubber latex industry. The certification is expected to be given to the majority of farms and producers by 2027.
The largest producer of natural rubber latex in South America is Guatemala. In total, the country produces approximately 25-30 tons of natural rubber latex per year. As mentioned above, in comparison, Thailand produces more than 600 tons annually.
The largest amounts of natural rubber latex produced in Africa are from Cameroon. Although still fairly small in comparison to the other regions, Cameroon has begun to join the race and has shown promising figures since 2011. Currently, 30 hectares exist for the plantation and harvest of the rubber tree, whilst an additional 30 hectares will soon be added along with a further plan for additional 30 hectares in the near future.
Cradle to Cradle™ Certified
The Cradle to Cradle® principle is based on five quality categories – material health, material reutilization, renewable (green) energy, carbon management, water stewardship, and finally social responsibility. Designers and manufacturers are supported through the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard guidelines in their continual process of improvement within these five quality categories. A product will then receive an achievement level within each category, differentiating between Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. However, the lowest achievement level will be considered to be the overall grade of the product, even if only one is on a lower achievement level.
The assessments of each product will be performed by qualified independent organizations which have been trained by the Cradle to Cradle® institute. Once this has been done, an assessment summary report will be reviewed by the Cradle to Cradle® Institute. This ensures that the products meet the standard requirements set by the institute, as well as authorizes the using of the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ word and design marks to the manufacturer of the assessed product. Furthermore, manufacturers are required to demonstrate efforts of good faith every two years, showing that they are aiming to improve their products for them to be recertified.
Vita Talalay® is Cradle to Cradle™ Gold Certified
Vita Talalay has the Cradle to Cradle® philosophy at its core for the improvement of our products and processes. We want to maintain and improve our position as the safest, ecological and healthiest comfort material in the world.
In April 2013, we first acquired the Cradle to Cradle™ Silver certificate.
The representation of our passion towards the Cradle to Cradle® values has been successful after having received the Cradle to Cradle™ Gold certificate beginning of 2016. Radium Foam is the first company in the mattress industry who has a Cradle to Cradle™ Gold certified product - our Natural Vita Talalay latex.
This certification provides our customers peace of mind. So-called organic latex does not assess the toxicity of the material like Natural Vita Talalay® has been assessed.
It shows and proves that Vita Talalay Latex is made of pure natural latex without any artificial additives (no odorizers, zero fillers), no harmful off-gassing whilst not containing any petrochemicals, nor any other harmful substances.
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From a rubber tree seed to becoming a mattress
From the seed to a tree
It all begins with the planting of the rubber tree seeds which look a lot like nuts. Interesting to note is also that the same trees are used worldwide due to the cloning process mentioned at the earlier stage of the article. This process is also known as grafting, where you replant a bud, shoot or scion of a plant inserted into a groove, slit, or the like in a stem or stock of another plant which continues to grow. You may know this from gardening in your home!
In total, the rubber tree requires approximately seven years until the natural rubber latex can be harvested from the rubber trees. The first two years are considered to be the nursery stage. This phase requires additional care of the rubber tree, specifically concerning the watering of the plants. A minuscule amount of additional fertilizer is needed for the rubber tree to grow while pesticides are only used during the nursery stage under very few conditions. In later stages, affected parts of the rubber tree are just cut off in the case that issues arise with the rubber trees during the nursery phase.
Once the rubber trees grow older, they form a natural canopy. In most instances, this means that the floors of the plantations are mostly empty due to lack of sunlight. However, some farms choose to deliberately plant a bedding over the earth with plants that create natural nitrogen. This leads to additional fertilization the soil from which the rubber tree can benefit.
On average, the rubber tree continues to yield until the age of 15 years before eventually drying out. The rest of the trees can be used to produce small wooden items due to the wood being somewhat hard. An example would be small flooring tiles.
From the tree to Vita Talalay
The day for the rubber tree farmer begins at around four a.m., where the farmer carves the tree to get the natural rubber latex to flow. This is done so early during the day because the rubber tree gives up more natural rubber latex during moderately cold temperatures and at best when it is not raining. A 200ml cup is put under each carved rubber tree to collect the natural rubber latex. On good days, approximately 150ml of the liquid can be collected per tree. Each tree then needs to rest for 2 to 3 days before the next carving. Although it is possible to carve the trees every day, the trees will produce less and die faster. On average, a single tree produces about 5 or 6 kg of natural rubber latex per year.
After breakfast, the farmers return to the carved trees with a large bucket strapped to their back to collect the yield. A little bit of ammonia is added to the bucket to keep the natural rubber latex fresh. This is crucial since, just like milk, the natural rubber latex gets bad very fast if it is not processed quick enough.
The rest of the journey now differs for natural rubber and natural rubber latex. For natural rubber, the liquid is made stable in the form of sheets by using acid to keep it dry for several days and finally sold to a broker. For natural rubber latex, however, the journey goes much faster. Since the farms are relatively small, collecting stations are commonly used. The tanks which can be found there will then be transported by 4x4 pickups in the late afternoon on the same day and brought to the processing factories where the natural rubber latex is processed during the night.
The processing facilities use the same centrifuge as milk companies do to separate water from the rubber before adding the ammonia. This process allows the concentration of rubber to increase in the natural rubber latex from 30% to 60%. The buyer company then organizes all the logistics and storage, as well as sampling and testing.
From natural rubber latex to a topper
The whole production process is split up into nine steps. For more detailed information, please follow this link .
The difference between Dunlop latex vs pure natural Vita Talalay latex
The difference in quality between Dunlop latex and pure natural Vita Talalay latex begins with the production process. The mold of Dunlop latex is filled all the way and baked (or vulcanized, thanks to Mr. Goodyear). The dense structure results in the mattress not being able to ventilate. Also, the dense structure is responsible for the low elasticity of standard latex.
The additional steps that Vita Talalay undertakes during the production process result in the mattresses having a unique open, round cellular structure which allows ventilation to occur and increases the elasticity of the mattress significantly.
In short, Dunlop Latex or Visco foam leave out the (3) vacuuming, (4) freezing, (5) gelling and (8) post vulcanizing phases. In turn, this means that standard latex requires about 40 minutes of time to process per piece while the pure natural Vita Talalay latex requires 9 hours per piece.
From Vita Talalay to the customer
Once the toppers have qualified for distribution under the strict quality control regulations, they are then appropriately packed and stored at the Vita Talalay headquarters in Maastricht, The Netherlands. From here, they are finally sent around the world to our high-end partners, such as Savvy Rest, Hüsler Nest, King Koil and many others, where they are introduced to our high-end customers.
That was a lot of information at once, which is why we have provided you with an infographic of the whole process from having a rubber tree seed to becoming a Vita Talalay mattress!
Fun facts about rubber
- The ancient Mayans, just as the Haitians, played with gumballs made from the rubber tree. They even threw the balls through hoops made of rubber. It was the earliest form of a game which is known today as basketball.
- It is rumored that the first seeds of the rubber tree were stolen, not purchased, from the Amazon.
- All rubber tree plants used on rubber tree farms around the world are genetically the same plant due to grafting.
- It is rumored that one of the reasons which prevented Malaysia from becoming a communistic state was the booming of the rubber industry
- The natural carbon sinks created by the rubber tree, and it’s canopy are just as effective as virgin rain forests