History of rubber
Latex, the source used to make natural rubber, has been making its debut since the heyday of the ancient Mayan civilization, almost 3,500 years ago (1600 B.C.). Used initially in Mayan rubber ball production, latex was not successfully applied to flooring until well into the 19th century. Prior to these attempts, latex in rub-ber form was popularly used for erasers, hammers, waterproof boots, tubes and jars.
The first attempts to make rubber floor tiles date back as early as the 13th century, but with little to no suc-cess. It wasn’t until the 1830s when inventors Charles Goodyear and Nathaniel Hayward learned how to combine gum plastic, sulfur and plant sap (latex) to create the rubber we know and use today. This process (named “vulcanization” after the Roman god of fire, Vulcan) produces a material more durable and more resilient than its rubber ancestors.
The latex used in natural rubber production is actually sap that can be found in certain plants and trees, in-cluding lettuce and dandelions. At present, the primary source of latex is generated from the Pará rubber tree.
Latex is white and milky in appearance, has an elastic consistency, and is removed from the tree through a process called “rubber tapping”. During this process, cuts are made into the bark of the tree where the latex is stored (latex vessels). The vessels are tapped in such a way so as not to disturb the tree’s growth. The latex then drips down into buckets which are tied to the tree underneath the incisions.
Just two centuries ago, the Para rubber tree was exclusive to the Amazon Rainforest. It wasn’t until the 1870s when rubber tree seeds were brought to India to help establish the first commercial rubber planta-tions. Today, rubber tapping methods are also commonly practiced in Liberia and Brazil, with Asia as the predominant source of natural rubber production.
The rubber made by the Mayans, while innovative for the time, was somewhat basic in form and function. Since then, scientists and inventors have discovered ways to manipulate latex with other materials and processes to create a variety of rubber types.
Despite technological advances with rubber in the early 19th century, it wasn’t until the 1950s that rubber was used as a flooring material. In fact, the first major recorded rubber flooring installation was in a Frankfurt, Germany airport in 1969. Since then, rubber has found its way into gyms, airports and facilities around the world. Its growing popularity on the home front has led to the development of eye–pleasing rubber designs and imitative patterns to suit many living spaces.
The first rubber floor tiles debuted sometime in the 12th to 13th centuries, but declined in popularity toward the end of the 17th century. The use of plain, square, undecorated red clay tiles became common throughout Europe during the 18th century. Linoleum was invented and patented in 1845. It was first manufactured in Scotland in the 1860s, and the first U.S. plant was built in 1872.
In 1894, Philadelphia architect Frank Fumess patented a system for rubber floor tiles. Colors were limited, but the tiles could be laid in geometric patterns to produce an eye-catching design. By the end of the century, recessed tabs allowed rubber tiles to be nailed to the sub-floor, and soon the tabs were eliminated altogether. These tiles were durable, sound-deadening, easy to clean, and easy to install. However, they also stained easily and deteriorated over time from exposure to oxygen, ozone and solvents, and were not suitable for use in basements where alkaline moisture was present.
Rubber flooring offered an alternative and additional benefits compared to other resilient floor coverings like PVC, vinyl, etc., that began to gain in popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The first major installation of nora� rubber flooring was at the Frankfurt Airport in 1969, where it still is giving excellent service. In the early 1970’s, nora� Rubber Flooring was first introduced into the U.S. market through a Chicago distributor.
Rubber tiles flooring gives a room a high-tech look. Rubber flooring was once made from the milky sap of the rubber tree, but most rubber tile flooring is now synthetic or manmade. Rubber tile flooring is resilient, flexible and durable. Rubber flooring is resistant to burns and dents; it’s built-in self-releasing wax allows some rubber tile flooring to self heal most scratches and abrasions. Rubber tile flooring comes in wet suit finishes, primary and pastel colors, and in industrial studded rubber sheet or rubber tiles.
Once used primarily in commercial settings, rubber tiles are hard wearing, colorful, and resilient, but costly. Because rubber can be slippery when wet, ribbed or studded rubber tiles are recommended in kitchens and active use rooms.
Rubber tiles flooring is generally considered a “low-impact,” environmentally friendly building material. Virgin rubber is sustainable as it is derived from trees, and the manufacture of synthetic rubber also has a low im-pact on the environment. Flooring that contains recycled rubber, however, is cheaper and more durable choice than synthetic or virgin rubber, and is considered a better choice as far as environmental impact is concerned. For reasons in favor of using recycled rubber over virgin or synthetics.
Recycled rubber flooring’s low impact on the environment indeed carries over into all areas that you mention: manufacture, use and disposal. To stretch your question just a bit, also consider that rubber’s sound absorbing qualities impact the environment by reducing noise pollution.
• The energy required to process the used tires and chemicals is lower than that used to produce other resilient flooring.
• Adhesives and tiles continually produce minor but non-hazardous gasses; not enough however to fall out of strict air quality ranges.
• Rubber tiles are flammable but are 100% recyclable. If installed without adhesive, additional recycling benefits are realized.