story by Holly Riech
To most people, the life of their tires starts at the shop where they bought them. But there’s more to the rubber on your rim than you think. At Michelin’s 9,000-hectare (1 hectare = 2.471 acres) plantation in Bahia, Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, liquid rubber (latex) is tapped from trees to be turned into tires. It takes a full year for a tree to produce enough latex, 11 pounds, for the tire of a small car.
After the latex is collected in buckets, it travels by donkey cart to a local refinery to be condensed into blocks. Then it’s shipped to Michelin’s plant in South Carolina, where it rolls off the belts as, you guessed it, tires!
As part of its work in Brazil, Michelin has launched several initiatives. The first, Ouro Verde, or green gold, was created in 2003 to support green operations in the Atlantic Forest. Ranked second behind the Amazon Forest for biodiversity, the land was depleted 95 percent by Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors ravaging for “gold, God and glory” more than 500 years ago. The exploitation has continued with illegal poaching, deforestation for crop planting, and industrial and urban development.
Michelin has also improved working conditions in the area. On average, a rubber tapper makes $320 a month, with medical included. That’s nearly three times the typical minimum salary of $120, without benefits. To create more jobs, increase income and use the land more efficiently, Michelin started growing cocoa alongside the hevea (rubber).
Furthermore, Michelin began selling 400-hectare parcels to 12 independent farmers
chosen from Michelin’s past employees. A final program has been designed to combat the spread of a fungal parasite (Microcyclus ulei) that kills rubber trees and is threatening global production and the 10 million people employed in the rubber industry worldwide. Even though Brazil produces only 3.4 percent of the world’s supply (the rest comes from Asia and Africa), it’s kickin’ tires to protect the business.