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Let's Not Get Our Wristbands In Such A Wad

Environmental activists the world over are breathlessly indignant that the popular Rainbow Loom wristbands are neither degradable nor recyclable. But are they overreacting?

Rainbow Loom bands, a dangerous trend?
Rainbow Loom bands, a dangerous trend?
Felicitas Kock

MUNICH — Ever since family man David Beckham was spotted wearing a colorful plastic bracelet on his wrist, it's been clear that Rainbow Loom bands are this summer’s trend, with parents playing right along. These plastic rings are everywhere, and suddenly millions of children have discovered a love for crochet and creating rainbow-colored wristbands.

But what happens when the trend fades, as all inevitably do? Weaving those suckers will at some point go the way of MySpace, and all those discarded bracelets could make their way to landfills.

In fact, a group of British environmental protectionists is already looking at that future moment when the Rainbow Loom hype ends. The problem with these vibrantly colored accessories is that they are comprised mostly of silicon, which means not only that they will never decompose but also that they can't be recycled. The British press is comparing the issue to the controversy in 2011 when the Royal Mail began to use red rubber bands to bundle letters together into small packets. Those bands weren't recyclable either, which is why environmentally conscious Brits took to sending them back to the post office so they could be reused.

In the United States, there is now an online petition demanding that Loom bands be forbidden until they can be sustainably produced and recycled. The bands are also said to endanger any small domestic animals and wild animals that might eat them, although specific cases of injury have yet to be reported.

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Photo: Carrie A.

British newspaper Daily Mail, which characterized the bands as an "eco ticking timebomb," quoted the CEO of a recycling company promising to figure out a way to deal better with the bands should the craze for them turn out to be long-lasting.

But wait ...

Looking back may also prove helpful. In the 1990s, many small children wore bright pacifiers made of hard plastic around their necks. The trend not long after that was the use of a kind of adhesive putty in loud colors that left stains on the walls and furniture it touched. These products disappeared shortly after being put on the market, never to be seen or heard of again. So it might be worthwhile to wait for the Rainbow Loom hysteria to die down before spending too much time developing a unique recycling system for them.

Meanwhile, what about existing bracelets? There are plenty of objects in our world that won’t biodegrade. Maybe it’s not the worst thing if our descendants 500 years from now find a few wristbands in cheerful neon colors among all the non-decayed plastic bags and aluminium cans.

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Ideas

Calmez-Vous, Americans: It's Quite OK To Call Us "The French"

A widely mocked tweet by the Associated Press tells its reporters to avoid dehumanizing labels such as "the poor" or "the French". But one French writer replies that the real dehumanizing threat is when open conversation becomes impossible.

Parisians sitting on a café terrasse.

Parisians sitting on a café terrasse.

Dirk Broddin on Flickr
Gaspard Koenig

-Essay-

PARIS — The largest U.S. news agency, the Associated Press (AP) tweeted a series of recommendations aimed at journalists: “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing 'the' labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated. Instead use, wording such as people with mental illnesses.”

The inclusion of “The French” in this list of groups likely to be offended has evoked well-deserved sarcasm. It finally gives me the opportunity to be part of a minority and to confirm at my own expense, while staying true to John Stuart Mill's conception of free speech: that offense is not a crime.

Offense should prompt quips, denial, mockery, and sometimes indifference. It engages conflict in the place where a civilized society accepts and cultivates it: in language.

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