Stretching the limits

The Great Elastic Band Challenge – can you solve the issue burning a hole in every postie’s back pocket?

As part of this week’s Environment Awareness Week, we launched the ‘Great Elastic Band Challenge’. Environment and sustainability manager, Liz Payne tells Zoe Walker why elastic bands are such a big issue for Royal Mail ­– and what we can all do about it.

Elastic bands: such small items that present such a huge environmental issue for Royal Mail. Why do we use so many elastic bands across the business?

Quite simply, they are a low-tech, but very effective tool for bundling mail together.

What impact can elastic bands have on the environment, if not used correctly?
Elastic bands are a natural product, but their properties that make them so useful in our operation can also make them both an environmental hazard and an eyesore. Elastic bands are a great example of a useful product, which becomes a pollutant when they get out into the environment.

Why should colleagues take the safe and careful use and disposal of elastic bands seriously?
There are many reasons why this is an important issue for Royal Mail and for colleagues. Whilst the items may seem harmless, they have a number of impacts.

  • Environment - The dropping of elastic bands is a form of environmental pollution and can cause harm to wildlife. Each band that is not dropped could be an important step in preventing harm to sensitive species such as birds and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs now feature as ‘at risk of extinction’ on the first official red list for mammals. Research undertaken by Royal Holloway, University of London, the Natural History Museum and the Zoological Society of London found elastic bands present as microplastics in the River Thames.
  • Legislation and fines – The dropping of elastic bands in the street can be seen as littering, which is illegal, and for which fixed penalty fines can be levied on the spot.
  • Reputational damage - One of the most regular causes of complaint to Royal Mail from members of the public is the littering of elastic bands.
  • Responsible consumption – Every elastic band dropped represents a cost to the business, in terms of both additional cost and wasted resource.

What practical, everyday actions can colleagues take to minimise the impact of elastic bands?

Try to keep track of the bands you are using and return used bands to your delivery office for reuse. If you have a great idea for the collection or replacement of elastic bands, why not get involved in the Great Elastic Band Challenge.

Can you say a bit more about the ‘Great Elastic Band Challenge’?

Last year, we launched our new environmental strategy, Delivering a cleaner future. One pillar of the strategy relates to responsible consumption, which is all about using what we have wisely and avoiding waste.

If you mention Royal Mail in public, you can almost guarantee it won’t be long before someone mentions elastic band littering! We want to change the perception and reduce our waste by looking for ways we can better manage elastic bands, so they are reused rather than discarded.

The Great Elastic Band Challenge is a way everyone in Royal Mail and their families and friends can think about the problem and share their ideas about what we can do to address the problem to the benefit of the environment, the business and our own peace of mind.

What kinds of solutions are you expecting to our elastic band problem?

I’m hoping for some simple but effective suggestions that we can take forward, that will solve the issue, be that some means of effectively collecting bands whilst on a round, or the introduction of something, which provides as good if not better service than the humble elastic band, but without the down sides. I don’t want to second guess the actual solutions, because we want people to be as inventive as possible!

If a colleague or team of colleagues does find a solution to our Elastic Band Challenge – what sort of impact will that have?

This would be a game-changer in terms of both our environmental impact and our reputation. I can’t wait to see what colleagues can come up with!

The Great Elastic Band Challenge…

We’re asking for your suggestions to help us to develop:

  • a viable alternative to the elastic band, which is safe for the environment, and is as good as, or better than an elastic band at bundling mail
  • a simple, but effective means of preventing elastic bands from falling to the ground.

The challenge will be open for either (socially-distanced!) teams or individuals to enter and is a great opportunity for colleagues to have fun and get involved in helping us improve our environmental performance, as well as our customer’s perceptions. Why not get feedback from friends, family – young and old – too?

Email with your ideas. All suggestions must be in by Friday 5 February.

22 Jan 2021