by Erin McKittrick || April 14 2007
strip of rubber

This blog's been empty for a bit. But now I'm back in town after a few weeks in Alaska testing out winter gear for an upcoming 4,000 mile environmental expedition.

The last ingredient in a pair of Sundrop Earrings is rubber. We put little rubber ear nuts on the backs of the french ear wires. Partly to hold them on the card for display and shipping, and partly to prevent people from losing the earrings wearing them. Of course, people often don't remember to use them, so we end up fairly often re-matching a mate to someone's lost earring (something we're generally happy to do).

rubber tree
Rubber tree
So, I have to figure out what these are made of, and where they come from. In the catalog, all it says is: "Rubber Hypoallergenic French Ear Wire Guards". This could be either natural or synthetic rubber - it's not specified. Wikipedia tells me that about 42% of rubber used is natural, and the rest is synthetic, so it could go either way.

Natural vs synthetic rubber

Natural rubber is a renewable resource, made from the sap of the Hevea brasiliensis tree. But rubber plantations can cause habitat loss when they displace existing tropical forests. Synthetic rubber is made from petroleum. Petroleum is obviously non-renewable, and synthetic rubber takes more energy to make (we're using fossil fuels to synthesize polymers, while the trees use solar energy). I'm not sure how it shakes out in the end between these two, but synthetic rubber has been steadily replacing natural rubber.

waste tires
Waste tires
Unfortunately, trying to look up the impacts of rubber manufacturing on the web is leading me to a whole lot of dead ends, largely regarding tires. Apparently the disposal of used tires is a huge problem, and many many websites are eager to tell me about the various things that can be done with used tires, such as covering playgrounds, making asphalt, in flooring, rubber bands, etc...

What I'd actually like to know is more specifics about the rubber manufacturing in the first place. However, rubber ear nuts are only about 0.005 ounces/pair (a pair is about a tenth of an ounce total). In my calculations so far, I've been looking at 1000 pairs of earrings, almost 8 pounds worth. In all that, rubber ear nuts are still only about 5 ounces. Basically, I really doubt they're a huge part of Sundrop Jewelry's impact.