Saturday, 20 October 2012


They’re everywhere!

The Royal Mail small red rubber band is used extensively by the state-owned postal delivery service in the UK. The Royal Mail uses a staggering 1billion rubber bands annually to tie together bundles of letters at sorting offices. In recent years, complaints about Royal Mail rubber bands littering the streets of Britain have given rise to ongoing press interest in this minor cultural phenomenon.

In a response to a Freedom of Information Act request made to the Royal Mail in December 2008, the company disclosed that it used the following numbers of rubber bands in each of the following years:-

2005/06 - 753,480,000

2006/07 - 825,750,000

2007/08 - 871,695,000

2009/10 - 760,000,00

According to the Daily Record  newspaper, 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 elastic bands increased by 40%. In 2009/2010, this meant that one rubber band was 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 newspaper story in 2006 — "Posties' red rubber bands stretch public's patience"— is fairly typical. It revealed a campaign by the London Borough of Lewisham's mayor complaining that an estimated 5,000 bands are dropped in his borough each month; it highlighted 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 made 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.

In April 2009, the Keep Britain Tidy  campaign 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.

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. The Royal Mail has never 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. Apparently RM is seeking to redesign certain processes to make the bands obsolete.

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