Rubber tapping is the process by which rubber is gathered. An incision is made in the bark of a rubber tree, which cuts through the latex vessels that flow between the bark and the cambium. The latex then drips into a vessel.
This industry is prevalent in areas of tropical rainforest, such as Brazil in the Roraima area or Malaysia and generally grows within a band 10° north or south of the equator, which offers optimum growing conditions. It is less destructive to the environment and rainforest and provides a renewable source of wood which can be used within the furniture industry. Large scale plantations operate on a 20 - 25 year planting cycle to optimise the latex yield.
Each night a rubber tapper must remove a thin layer of bark along a downward half spiral on the tree trunk. If done carefully and with skill, this tapping panel will yield latex for up to 5 years. Then the opposite side will be tapped allowing this side to heal over. The spiral allows the latex to run down to a collecting cup. The work is done at night so the latex will drip longer before coagulating and sealing the cut.
Depending on the final product, additional chemicals can be added to the latex cup in order to preserve the latex for longer. Ammonia solution helps prevent natural coagulation and allows the latex to remain in its liquid state. This form of latex is used as the raw material for latex concentrate, which is used for dipped rubber products or for the manufacture of Ribbed Smoke Sheet grades.
Naturally coagulated latex, sometimes referred to as cup lump, is collected for processing into block rubbers, which are referred to as Technically Specified Rubbers (TSR).
For the rubber tappers to legally extract the latex, they must first buy land that contains rubber trees. Even on huge pieces of land there are usually very few of these trees, so the tapper must buy lots of unused trees.