Natural rubber is used in over 40,000 different products, over 400 of which are used in the medical industry. If you have a sensitivity to latex you know there are very few decent alternatives to synthetic latex currently on the market. What you may not know is that just over the horizon lurks a hypoallergenic and bioethical solution to many latex industry problems.
Producing rubber from Guayule isn’t exactly a new science. This scrappy little plant helped keep the American rubber industry afloat in the 1920’s when blight decimated Brazilian rubber crops and again in WWII when Japan cut off our Malaysian supply of rubber. Even the name guayule is derived from the Mesoamerican word for rubber. So why haven’t you heard of it yet?
Guayule yields substantially less rubber than Hevea rubber trees and add to that the cost of employing Americans instead of workers in developing nations and we begin to see a familiar pattern emerge. Thus guayule gets demoted to 3am bootycall status when all other prospects dry up.
But don’t fret dear reader, this story has a happy ending. A number of years ago a few scientists took another look at the hypoallergenic properties of guayule (partly motivated by growing petroleum prices) and discovered that it’s superior in nearly every way to synthetic latexes. It’s more elastic, stronger, and more environmentally friendly. It even produces its own natural pesticides! Plus, bagasse, the byproduct of latex extraction, can be used in the organosolv process to generate energy equivalent to that produced from coal, only far cleaner.
But what does this have to do with art? That’s the coolest thing about it- Yulex, the premiere company working on producing guayule based latex, is so fresh and new that they’re branching out in every direction and marketing to all audiences. Their new facilities (set to be completed in January 2012) will be able to make everything from condoms to artists paints. And no order is too small, their labs are capable of producing one-off pieces for design review, study and consideration. That’s exciting news for installation artists looking for close to home production as well as messy artists who just want better hypoallergenic gloves and paints. I know I sound like some ridiculous commercial, but it’s not often that a starving artist gets to have a say in the physical compounding of their own materials! It’s like art geek Valhalla.
Right guys? Guys?