Loom bands, I’m reliably informed (not having kids in the recommended 4 to 8 age bracket myself), are the latest craze to take the child world by storm.
The colourful rubber bands can be woven on a plastic loom to craft all manner of homemade jewellery. The concept has caught on, perhaps against the odds in our tech-obsessed age, and has proved so successful, loom-inventor Cheong-Choon Ng quit his job as a crash-test engineer at Nissan last year to focus on loom bands alone, having sold more than 3 million looms to date.
However, therein lies the rub. Loom bands are everywhere, from playgrounds to parks to living rooms, and some are calling for an outright ban. You see, the bands themselves are made from synthetic, non-recyclable, non-sustainable rubber. Discarded, they wash down drains and into water systems, pose a danger to wildlife (and even pets), and contribute to our terrifyingly enormous worldwide plastic pollution problem. Their very popularity draws stark attention to the linear way we think about product life cycles. Renewability just isn’t built into the system at present, and many argue that it absolutely should be.
We’ve been here before
The current social media furore bears more than a passing resemblance to the rubber-band-related outcry two years ago, when the Royal Mail revealed that it uses 2 million rubber bands each day.
It also is the classic environmentalist problem: something that looks fun and harmless from the outside but which on closer look is almost perfectly designed to be an environmental nightmare. Predictably, howls of ‘killjoy’ and accusations of a ‘tax on fun’ dominate the comments section of any article discussing the environmental implications of the craze.
Beyond calls for better regulation of products before they hit the shelves, there is perhaps an opportunity for learning in all of this. Many of the planet’s challenges can be conceptually difficult for kids to understand. You can’t see greenhouse gases, the majority of plastic pollution ends up far out in our oceans where we can’t feel it, and even adults have trouble appreciating the enormity of the challenges posed by climate change.
Loom bands’ very ubiquity is part of the issue. They’re everywhere, and they’re cheap. How, then, to encourage a child to treat them as precious? But this is the very message we all need to take on board. Almost every piece of plastic ever produced still exists on our planet in some form, and we all have to move away from the throw-away attitude to plastic that means no one thought twice about whether manufacturing unrecyclable loom bands was responsible in the first place.
Perhaps by encouraging children to take plastic waste seriously, the way in which they treat their loom bands could be their first act of environmentalism, and hopefully the beginning of a lifetime of good habits.
A similar short-sighted approach to plastic products was discussed in our previous blog regarding cosmetic microbeads