Sunday, October 10, 2010

Silly Bandz: cute fad or environmental hazard?

Kids have been coming home with Silly Bandz now for weeks, trading them on the playground, giving them as party favors. These are brightly colored little rubber band-like items made of silicone, formed in different shapes, worn as bracelets. Inexpensive, and popular they are, yes. For now.

However, once Silly Bandz cease to be popular, they will end their life cycle as garbage. I have already seen broken ones littering the playground and street gutters near schools. Silicone is proven to be a bad thing for people, pets and other animals, birds and fish.

I point this out because our communities pride themselves in teaching "Green Thinking" and "Life Skills" to our children. I know that there are schools and even school districts that have been banning these seemingly innocent toys, mainly because they prove to be a distraction in class, even leading to problems on the playground. But parents should be thinking beyond the distraction factor, thinking in greater depth about the ramifications of ubiquitous, faddy, non-biodegradable products that are marketed to our children.

The fact is, Silly Bandz will eventually become part of the landfill and end up in our waterways, killing particularly birds and fish (they look like brightly colored worms, don't they?), but also posing a danger to other creatures. By the time that fad dies, and a new one is born, the creators of Silly Bandz (and like products) will have raked in millions of our dollars, but will not be accountable when the product becomes part of the mix of environmental problems facing the planet.

The fact that these items are cheap, numerous and readily available means that we are inadvertently teaching our kids (1) to be consumers and (2) to thoughtlessly assign value to items that have a dubious use and value, yet a life cycle that poses a future environmental threat.

Perhaps this seems a silly topic to be writing about, but we must now, at all times, be thinking seriously about the life cycle of the items we mass produce, whether they are cute toys or packaging, processed food, or whatever the items are. When we see the all too real stories about toxic sludge byproducts of aluminum manufacturing inundating Hungarian villages and flowing into the Danube river, we need to wake up to the fact that there needs to be more thought, regulation and oversight in the manufacture of just about everything.

I won't suggest that Silly Bandz need to be banned, because I know that parents will balk at the suggestion, and that I will accused of raining on everyone's parade of fun with junk.  However, I believe that this, and many other products, offer thoughtful and caring parents opportunities to teach children about consumerism of products that we know to be ultimately unhealthy for our planet.

To date, I have not spent a dime on Silly Bandz, and I have spoken of my misgivings to other parents on a selective basis. I have spoken to my children about why I think they are bad. They have a few of them, but they are informed now (by what I told them and by what they experienced recently, while volunteering on Coastal Cleanup Day), and they don't seem to be interested in collecting them.

This is a good sign.


  1. What about using the discarded Silly Bandz in art pieces. This could solve the problem of waste and provide children with a creative outlet. Just my 2 cents

  2. (sigh) Well, yes, art happens. But that could merely be a delaying of the inevitable. Yes, much art can be done with much junk. However, not all of said art is retained for the beautification and edification of people, so they will end up in the landfill, anyway, only now they will be mixed with paint, paper, glue, wood, lacquer, varnish, etc. Yes, it is "a kind of solution", like fear is in Cavafy's famous poem. And it might be an instructive solution, but there is a missing element.

    What is missing is forethought. If there was an application of forethought to the whole mix, then perhaps the Silly Bandz could have been produced from a material that is ultimately biodegradable, rather one that is a bio-hazard. Forethought would place environmental issues firmly before free-market free-for-all of capitalism. Forethought would mean that our governmental agencies would not blindly allow products like this to flood over our borders from a foreign entity that has environmental standards lower than our own.

    The only thing that seems to trickle down in Trickle Down Economics is the environmental fallout from Very Bad Ideas.

    Yes, art can provide a back-end life to the current Silly Bandz fad, but it cannot obliterate the environmental damage that succeeding generations of humans will have to contend with.