A pungent smell punctuated the air.
The street family had just finished cooking up a simple starchy meal to ‘hold’ their stomachs during the night.
Besides the challenge of accessing food, fuel was hard to come by.
Living in a city meant fewer trees and therefore less firewood.
Besides, most of the charcoal dealers were located in the outskirts of the city.
And so the only option on their table was to check out for any flammable stuff lying around to function as fuel for the evening meal…
Pieces of wood…
We shall revisit the plight of our street family but only after putting one of their common ‘fuel’ sources in the limelight.
Let not it’s leathery texture decieve you.
Rubber has great historical significance ever since the advent of the automobile industry.
Produced as viscous latex from rubber trees, it was not thought of as an asset right until Charles Goodyear sprinkled some sulfur onto it while heating it in his domestic oven.
It suddenly hardened into the rubber as we know it today.
This innovation led to a rush in rubber production lifting economies of several nations while at the same time throwing others in negative limelight.
Leopold’s Belgium perfectly fitted the latter.
Having proclaimed the Congo as his personal chattel, King Leopold endeavoured to produce as much rubber by breaking the backs and lives of his African ‘subjects’.
So brutal was his greed for rubber dollars that he committed henious crimes against the people of the Congo…
Their hands were chopped off for being ‘lazy’…
Millions were slaughtered by his bloody regime all in the name of Rubber.
Still, natural rubber production could not match the needs of an exponentially growing automobile industry.
So industries turned to the knowledge of science and specifically chemistry to engineer the next brand of rubber we use so often today.
Its commendable that synthetic rubber has easened our lives in many ways enabling manufacture of affordable automobile tyres, children toys, household accessories among other things.
Better still, isn’t it amazing how many rubber and plastic related industries have emerged in cities in developing nations such as Nairobi?
Without a doubt, manufacture, recycling and selling of synthetic rubber and its products provides a livelihood for thousands of people.
A livelihood made possible by the straightforward steps used in its production.
Rubber is a polymer…
In other words, its a product culminating from joining together of many carbon based molecules to form a super structure whose benefits we enjoy immensely.
A common type of synthetic rubber in industry is forged from two chemicals; Styrene and 1,3-Butadiene…
…the end product being Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR), a material heavily used in the automobile industry especially in the manufacture of tyres.
But also a product whose one of its key ingredient attracts considerable attention.
Though SBR is very safe for all to use, 1,3-butadiene is classified as a carcinogenic substance associated with leukemia.
The ingredient is harmless when part of rubber but if inhaled through airborne fumes over time, it could expose workers involved in the rubber making process to risks.
Personal protective equipment is therefore essential in reducing inhalation of this toxin.
But exposure to such carcinogenic stuff may also happen in a number of other ways.
Because rubber doesn’t easily degrade, its disposal leads to environmental accumulation making it a potential source of fuel especially for the economically disadvantaged.
(The example we saw at the start of the story).
Infact, burning of waste rubber in cities is an activity we don’t usually frown upon simply because of how rampant it is.
But why should we?
Open burning of rubber and and other waste material leads to accumulation of ground level pollutants in a way that leads to rising cases of respiratory diseases.
Like any product, rubber products need recycling protocols (attached to their product descriptions) to avoid careless disposal after use.
But not only that.
Industries involved in rubber manufacture must protect their workers from potentially toxic raw materials.
Personal protective equipment especially gas masks and goggles must be used at all times.
Also, chimneys fitted with filters must be put in place to protect the surrounding communities from toxic fumes produced.
Rubber improves our lives in more ways than we could imagine.
But we must also guard against its manufacture processes which might negatively impact on our health in the long run.