Latex is a really versatile product that has been sustainably harvested and used for hundreds of years. Today, both natural and synthetic latex is commonly used for bedding – such as your pillow – and also for range of household and personal items, including gloves, balloons, dummies, rubber bands, condoms, and clothing.
Natural latex products are made from a milky fluid excreted by trees; it’s found in about 10 per cent of all flowering plants, serving as a defense against wood-boring insects. It is not, as is commonly thought, a sap.
While there are over 20,000 plant species that can produce latex, 14 per cent of tropical plants create it, compared to just six per cent of temperate plant species.
To harvest the latex liquid, the bark of the tree is partially removed and funneled into a small vessel attached to the trunk of the tree.
Generally, because the tree from which the latex is harvested is kept alive, the production of latex is a fairly sustainable process. However, with 93 per cent of global rubber production being in developing countries in tropical areas, some producers have more sustainable methods than others.
There are products on the market that showcase leading examples of natural latex production. There’s a world first in the field – the 100% GOLS-certified organic and carbon neutral certified latex from Sri Lanka that Sleep Made To Measure uses, that we’ve mentioned before here. And Etiko were recently recognised with a Green Lifestyle Award for highly commended fashion product for their rubber thongs. Both of these products support the local communities where they are made, and are of the highest quality – yet easily affordable for the average Australian too.
It is also possible to make latex synthetically from petroleum, oil, and acetylene; but the use of these materials for the synthetic production process is not at all sustainable, and can even cause allergies in some people. The benefit with natural latex is that it’s naturally antibacterial and antifungal – an important consideration when most of the population develops allergic reactions to dust mites that commonly live in our synthetic pillows. And of course with the GOLS-certified organic Sleep Made To Measure method, no chemicals at all are used in the growing and tapping process, so the final product is completely chemical-free (and even compostable)!
It is worth noting that there’s a small percentage of the population that are allergic to natural latex. These people need to bear in mind that more often than not, synthetic latex emits harmful VOCs over it’s lifetime, and so it can be problematic for your health – especially as a pillow, as you would be sleeping on this material and breathing in the VOCs all night.
If your pillow really is made from natural latex (not the synthetic kind) you can rest assured that it is most likely ok for you to have in your eco-home. But for real peace of mind, as with just about any product, it’s best to find out before you buy new if it has been ethically, sustainably produced.