Rubber band waste costs Royal Mail and litters our streets

Some of the rubber bands I found littering the streets near where I live. Picture: SHEENA GRANT

Some of the rubber bands I found littering the streets near where I live. Picture: SHEENA GRANT - Credit: Archant

This weekend marks Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean, when volunteers are asked to help clear the country’s streets, parks and coastlines of litter.

It comes as concern mounts about plastic waste finding its way into oceans, often after being discarded on land. It’s something I’ve written about in previous columns, but plastic waste isn’t the only litter blight.

I try to observe my surroundings when out walking but just lately I’ve had my eyes glued to the ground. And it’s all because of elastic bands.

I first noticed them littering the streets around my home on the Suffolk coast a while ago but had no idea where they came from - until I saw a postman pinging one off a wad of letters. In three short forays in the last week I’ve now collected around 40 similar bands.

The problem isn’t purely local. In 2011 the BBC reported that in the previous five years Royal Mail spent almost £5m on four billion bands, while Keep Britain Tidy warned of the risk posed to wildlife.

I’m staggered at the scale of the problem and why it still persists - it’s such a waste of money and a PR disaster.


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A Royal Mail spokeswoman told me the firm recognises discarded bands are a threat to wildlife and a needless expense but said it had introduced measures to increase reuse and pointed out the bands will start to biodegrade within a year outdoors.

She added: “Every year, we use around 338 tonnes of elastic bands to keep bundles of mail together. In 2016-17, we reduced the number purchased by 8%, by encouraging reuse.

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“Last year we ran a campaign to raise awareness amongst employees of the negative impact of littering, including the cost to our business. We ask our postmen and women to return all rubber bands for re-use.

“We also signed a joint statement with the CWU and Unite (unions) to encourage our people to re-use rubber bands.”

I know elastic band litter isn’t on the same scale as plastic but it is all part of the same problem - we’ve become a throwaway, wasteful society.

It looks like Royal Mail is trying to do something about it - maybe more of its workers need to do the same.

? How many elastic bands are left on your street? Email me here.

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