Royal Mail rubber band
A Royal Mail rubber band is a small formerly red elastic loop used by the state-owned postal delivery service in the United Kingdom. In the course of its work, the Royal Mail consumes nearly 1 billion rubber bands per annum to tie together bundles of letters at sorting offices. In the 2000s, complaints about Royal Mail rubber bands littering the streets of Britain have given rise to ongoing press interest in this minor cultural phenomenon. The bands ceased to be red in 2010, and are now standard elastic band brown.
In a response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by Steve Woods to the Royal Mail in December 2008, the company disclosed that it used the following numbers of rubber bands in each of the three years from 2005/6-2007/8:
- 2005/06 - 753,480,000
- 2006/07 - 825,750,000
- 2007/08 - 871,695,000
- 2009/10 - 760,000,000
According to the Daily Record, costs for rubber bands in the 2007/8 period were £982,677. Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph showed that between 2007 and 2011, spending on rubber bands increased by 40%. In 2009/2010, the numbers used equate to one rubber band being used for every 28 letters that the Royal Mail delivered.
Complaint and comment on the theme of discarded rubber bands is a recurring focus of media interest. A Times story in 2006—"Posties' red rubber bands stretch public's patience"—is fairly typical. It notes a campaign by the London Borough of Lewisham's mayor, who complains that an estimated 5,000 bands are dropped in his borough each month; details the response to a November 2005 BBC Radio Essex programme in which listeners were asked to send in found rubber bands; allegedly 10,000 were received; and makes a range of more or less whimsical suggestions for the re-use of such bands—as rubber balls, "chopsticks for butterfingers", and rubber band tanks. Lewisham's campaign was picked up by a number of other news outlets, such as the BBC. The story resurfaces from time to time, independently of specific campaigns.
At least one report of injury to wildlife has been made in respect of—presumably—Royal Mail rubber bands, in the case of a duck observed with a rubber band wrapped around its head. Hedgehogs are also affected by red rubber bands, and have died as a result of them sticking to the animal and the hedgehogs flesh growing into it as they grow.
More recently, in April 2009, the Keep Britain Tidy campaign has involved itself in the issue as part of its Big Tidy Up campaign, and returned some 13,000 bands that had been collected by the public to the Royal Mail. The campaign, together with a similar initiative by the Keep Scotland Beautiful organisation, once again raised the profile of the issue, garnering coverage in the mainstream press.
Royal Mail response
The Royal Mail emphasises that it instructs staff to re-use and not to abandon rubber bands, and that in mid-2004 it changed the colour of bands used from brown to red so that that they are easier to spot and retrieve. It notes that neither the company, nor to its knowledge any staff, have ever been fined for rubber band littering; and that contemporary red rubber bands are designed to be more biodegradable than previously used brown bands, so as to lessen the environmental impact. Finally the company notes that it is seeking to redesign certain processes to diminish the use of bands.
The UK press exhibits a fascination with the whimsical side of the issue: what to do with discarded bands. The Guardian newspaper went as far as to dedicate an editorial column to the subject. More frequently the media solicits and presents lists of suggestions: the BBC Radio 4's PM programme proffered the following:
- Guitar strings
- Hair bands
- A teddy bungee jump
- Seals for bags of sugar
- Bicycle clips
- Emergency belt loops
- Pencil-top erasers
- Waistband expanders
- Chopping board stabilisers
- Anti-slip devices for mixing spoons
- Anti-squeak devices for bed slats
- Saucepan handle covers
- Jar openers
- A shoe tidy
- Cable ties + an aide memoire
- Barter for stamps
- Cat toys
- Flicking toys
- Gardening string
- Handlebar fasteners
Less frequently, papers discuss whether postmen or the Royal Mail should be fined for littering; the Keep Britain Tidy campaign group has suggested that environmental protection laws should be used to levy on-the-spot fines of £80 for dropping litter, with the penalty rising to £2,500 if the case goes to court.
- Woods, Steve (12 January 2009). "Elastic bands". WhatDoTheyKnow.com. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Jamieson, Alastair (20 February 2011). "Red rubber band litter costing Royal Mail £2,840 a day". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- Musson, Chris (7 March 2009). "Royal Mail buy a billion elastic bands because posties discard them". Daily Record. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Royal Mail's red rubber band use revealed". BBC News. 20 February 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- "Posties' red rubber bands stretch public's patience". The Times. 21 January 2006. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Rubber Band for Royal Mail". Lewisham Council. 26 January 2006. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Posties rapped over rubber bands". BBC News. 18 January 2006. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Young, Toby (11 March 2009). "Postman Pat loses all his rubber goods". Evening Standard. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Hunt for duck in rubber band trap". BBC News. 13 February 2006. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Success for Elastic Band Amnesty". Keep Britain Tidy. 15 April 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Bands Reunited!". Keep Britain Tidy. 28 April 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Return to Sender!". Keep Britain Tidy. 25 June 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Gray, Louise (25 June 2009). "Rubber bands sent back to Royal Mail in protest". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Dawes, Martin (15 April 2009). "Seeing red over rubber bands". Daily Star. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "What do we want? Rubber bands! Why do we want them? Er!". iPM Blog (BBC Radio 4). 6 April 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Mount, Harry (17 April 2009). "Ban the bands! Britain's posties have dropped 400,000 red rubber bands (enough to power 12 Spitfires) on our pavements". Daily Mail. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Smithers, Rebecca (25 June 2009). "Keep Britain Tidy returns 13,000 rubber bands to Royal Mail". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- Meltzer, Tom (9 April 2009). "Red rubber bands - more than just litter?". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "In praise of ... red rubber bands". The Guardian. 24 December 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- 10 uses for a red rubber band, BBC News magazine, 6 April 2009
- "1001 uses for Royal Mail rubber bands...". iPM Blog (BBC Radio 4). 9 April 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Rubber banned: Keep Britain Tidy wages war on Royal Mail elastic bands". The Guardian. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
- "Should postal workers be fined for dropping rubber bands?". The Guardian. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.