Tyre Industry Demand Having Strong Environmental Impact in China
The supply of rubber to feed China’s booming tyre industry is taking its toll on the environment, report ecologists. According to one report, China produced 330 million tyres in 2007, and to cater to this demand, China is seeking to expand its natural rubber output, which China Rubber Industry Association forecasts will grow by 30 per cent to 780,000 tonnes by 2010. In some areas this growth, however, is coming at the expense of the natural ecosystem.
Speaking to Reuters, ecologist Liu Wenjie relates that the southern tip of China’s Yunnan Province, which Liu describes as having the country’s richest variety of flora and fauna, is being gradually supplanted by rubber plantations. Thirty years ago, jungles and high mountain forests covered about 70 per cent of Xishuangbanna, tucked between China’s borders with Laos and Myanmar. By 2003, that proportion had shrunk to less than half, and rainforests exist only in small protected zones.
“”With rubber prices rising like crazy, any tree that can be cut down has been cut down to make way for rubber,” said Liu, a professor at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, run by the Chinese Academy of Science. The official figure for Yunnan Province’s rubber acreage is 334,000 hectares, about 43 per cent of the country’s total acreage, but the actual figure may be much higher. Available land suitable for growing rubber is very limited as the trees need to be planted in sub-tropical or tropical climates, weather conditions found only in small parts of southern China. In these areas the ecological impact is even acknowledged by those in the industry. “It’s true there is not as much biodiversity here,” commented Yin Shiming, head of the state-run Yunnan Rubber’s production division.
Rubber prices have almost tripled over the last decade and are now around 20,000 yuan (£1,450) a tonne.