What's the difference between rubbers and why do pet owners care?

Rubber is the world's most used material. As such, it comes in many forms and from many processes. To untangle the knot of which type of rubber is best for Pet Stores we’re going to dive into how they’re made, what it’s used for, and why it’s important for pet parents to be informed about what they’re buying for their pups.

Rubber Tree

Where does Rubber come from?

There are two main categories of rubber - natural and synthetic. 

As their names suggest one is made of a natural, renewable resource, tapped from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, whereas synthetic rubber is made of a chemical process, with ingredients like butadiene and styrene. 

Synthetic rubber is a petroleum-based product, which means it comes from crude oil, a non-renewable resource whose production costs are strongly correlated to oil prices. We explored crude oil prices in a previous blog to help us understand rising costs in our industry, click here to read it.

How does rubber production affect the environment?

Let’s start with the obvious. Synthetic rubber is a pollutant through its entire life cycle. The creation process releases gasses that pollute the air with chemical particulates, lead and other carcinogenic compounds known to cause numerous health problems in humans. Simply using synthetic rubber products is a pollutant by shedding toxic microplastics into the environment. Even the recycling effort is noxious as it pollutes our water systems, butadiene can absorb so much oxygen in water that it creates a toxic environment for marine life. Start to finish, synthetic rubber is a nasty beast. The recycled product itself is not toxic if not swallowed.

There are use cases where synthetic rubber is the necessary choice: car tires. But we don’t want our dogs chewing on literal car tires. Realistically, we all have synthetic rubber in our homes as it’s also found in heels of shoes, even chewing gum. There are efforts to create a more “sustainable synthetic rubber” suitable for human transportation. They are supplying butadiene from plastic waste and biomass. Still, not something we want inside our homes and in the mouths of our family pets.

Let’s be honest, natural rubber also has drawbacks. While it is non-toxic, does not pollute at the same scale as synthetic rubber, it is biodegradable and recyclable, and it comes from a renewable resource, it is not a perfect product.

We must also acknowledge that 90% of the world's natural rubber production takes place in a small region in South-East Asia and is limited to one type of tree. The conditions are set up so that there is not much biodiversity and the threat of plague wiping out vast production capabilities is legitimate. This leaves global production and supply particularly vulnerable. If sourced irresponsibly, it encourages producers to deforest their land to plant more trees. 

Dog toy manufacturers must know who and where their raw materials come from.

Are there alternative natural rubbers?

Many plants produce rubber naturally. Unfortunately, the quality of the rubber is well below standard. We as manufacturers, who value our earth and those who live on her land, we have to be open to other natural rubber sources as they become available. Today’s choice is to manufacture our products from ethically sourced natural rubber producers or TPR.

There is also TPR, a Thermoplastic Rubber made of recycled synthetic rubber. The use cases for TPR dog toys are for those that are made to be frozen or for extreme chewing and dental cleaning toys. It is incredibly durable as a dog toy, it can withstand near constant chewing and maintain its shape, it is weather resistant and dirt falls from its surface. TPR is 100% recyclable.

Who uses rubber and how much does the world use?

Rubber has been commonly used by humans for over 1,000 years. Most intriguing, there is evidence of rubber use by Mexican and Central American populations as far back as 3,500 years ago. 

In 2020, 12.7 million metric tons of natural rubber and 14.2 million metric tons of synthetic rubber were consumed worldwide.

The majority of natural and synthetic rubber is consumed by the global automotive industry to produce tires and tubes for vehicles. There are about 40 sub-categories of rubber like TPE, TPR, Neoprene. Most rubbers are used for industrial applications where pressure, permeability, and temperature resistance are among many important factors to the performance of the rubber.

The pet industry uses rubber for a variety of products, most popularly: dog toys and licking mats. I could not find any reliable sources with the metric ton rubber consumption within the dog toy industry.

We choose Natural Rubber at JoJo Modern Pets:

Natural rubber is the obvious choice for manufacturing our toys. Our dense, heavy, multicolored chew toys are made from all natural rubber, sourced ethically and manufactured in some of the highest-quality facilities in the world. It’s not popular to say, but not all overseas manufacturers are bad, the great ones must be found and sourced, with the relationship cultivated between facility and organization being extremely important.

Where appropriate we use TPR, specifically for toys that need to bounce, freeze, withstand extreme chewing and survive the backyard. Dental toys are made with TPR as they will not lose their shape ensuring a better performing product. You can see a list here.

Anywhere we can make the choice to honor the earth, use renewable resources, or recycled materials we do. We aim to be carbon neutral by 2030 by keeping our operations lean, optimizing our supply chain, and balancing our greenhouse gas emissions with carbon offset plans and manufacturing carbon neutral products.

What Pup Parents should know:

Thankfully, there is an increase in demand for safe pet toy products. Pet Parents are more attuned to the health and safety of the materials they bring into their homes and give to their dogs. 

It is imperative that your pup parents are aware of the downsides of buying fully synthetic rubber dog toys. Many exist, the industry is full of synthetic rubber. They’re also easy to find, simply look in dollar stores and big retailers like Walmart. 

Often, the  label will distort reasoning by highlighting “100% synthetic rubber” alongside BPA Free, and Lead Free as if putting it next to these benefits changes the toxicity. Don’t be fooled. It is very easy to use synthetic rubber without BPA and lead, they are jumping on the bandwagon of BPA Free consciousness. 

One way to find synthetic rubber is to smell the toy, there is a distinct odor of petroleum, whereas natural rubber and TPR are virtually odorless.

If your pup parent has a latex allergy, the raw material for natural rubber, it’s best to point them in the direction of TPR or silicone toys. The natural ingredients used to form silicone are made from different source materials and as such are latex free.

As a Pet Store, we recommend you talk to your employees and train them on the different materials found in the products you sell. The world of plastics, natural and synthetic rubber, and silicone can be confusing. 

Customers look to their local shops to be sources of information, if you have any questions please contact us directly. We’re happy to talk about products, materials, the pet industry, and our goals. Schedule a call with us.