Exploring the loom band craze
Its a question that has been bothering me for a while as I watch my son Neru gleefully produce another bracelet for his already covered arm. Surely these things must have an environmental impact. I stuck my head in the sand and got on with enjoying my son’s abundant creativity. The thing is, I work at CAT and eventually the niggly voice took over; this is what I found out.
Everywhere you go these days you see them – on trains and buses, at play parks, libraries and schools: tiny colourful elastic bands being transformed into a myriad of different things. The loom band craze has taken of at a phenomenal rate; kids everywhere are getting creative and making jewellery with these easy to use and appealing elastic bands.
Yet the environmental consequences of loom bands are becoming increasingly apparent. The massive increase in demand has led to the building of new plantations in East Asia, with activists pointing to air and water pollution from the production process. Animal welfare groups have sounded the alarm of the threat to animal and marine life. In addition, the loom bands are not recyclable.
Loom uses non-latex rubber, which means the bands are a synthetic product made largely from silicone. Synthetic materials require less land to produce, but they aren’t renewable, as natural rubber is. Recycling consultants WasteConnect said loom bands are a growing problem;
“They can’t be recycled and when a child does eventually get bored with them and the craze dies out, they will just be taking up space. I really don’t know what can be done with them that would solve the growing problem.”
In the Philippines animal welfare organisation PAWS has warned pet owners to keep their pets away from loom bands due to the risk of intestinal obstruction. In the US some veterinarians have treated dogs and cats with severe vomiting or diarrhea caused by ingesting one or more loom bands. Intestinal blockages can form as a result of swallowing several bands at a time, without surgery it can be fatal. Animals with smaller digestive systems such as Cats are particularly susceptible.
Wildlife can experience the same effects from elastic bands, ducks are among the most vulnerable creatures, with the bands getting wrapped around their beaks or necks . The animals sometimes ingest the bands, which can cause problems as they pass through the digestive tract. Paul, director of conservation at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, said: “’Loom bands, like any plastic item, are capable of persisting in the environment for many, many years and there is abundant evidence of small plastic items making their way into the diets of marine animals and seabirds with tragic consequences. I’d be particularly worried about loom bands being taken to the beach, due to the likelihood of them getting into the sea.”
In the US, an online petition has been set up calling for a ban on the bands until they can be ‘produced and recycled in an environmentally-sustainable way’. The petition says:
“Surging demand for Rainbow Looms has led to the development of new rubber plantations in East Asia. Not only does rubber production task the regional environment, but it also contributes to air and water pollution. The synthetic materials used to produce the looms are not renewable or recyclable.”
The Centre for Alternative Technology runs kids’ activities throughout the summer that make recycled green jewellery. There are some really easy to ideas on line that use natural materials such as clay, stones, shells, yarn, etc. Friendships bands used to be a huge phenomenon and involve plaiting coloured pieces of thread together, resulting in a mini work of art that is biodegradable, easy to do and much more environmentally sustainable. Better get the yarn out then!