AltUse Find - The ubiquitous red rubber band – a symptom of a wasteful attitude

As readers of this blog will know, I do promotional leafleting from time to time, and as I go around the neighbourhood, I tend to notice things like the red rubber bands dropped by posties. I, like most householders, am irked by this practice when they are dropped on my property, which admittedly happens only occasionally. It’s only when you start to visit numerous other properties that you discover the scale of the issue. Many others have already commented on this, and this humorous article here will give you some ideas on what to do with the ones you find – a Google search will turn up many more.

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Now I also use rubber bands to bundle my leaflets: I find having them in bundles of 100 makes it much easier to manage specific areas as I know how many bundles I need to carry. I always retain my rubber bands, and wonder why the posties can’t do the same. Yesterday, I deliberately began to pick up their discarded bands, and was amazed at just how many there actually are littered around the neighbourhood.

The Royal Mail admits to using around 350 million a year, although they have been, understandably, reluctant to reveal just how much they spend on them – recent estimates suggest £1m annually. A little research reveals that they bought 872 million last year, which puts the cost at somewhere around £1.15 per thousand – obviously a tiny amount per rubber band. The Royal Mail claims it recycles “the vast majority” of its rubber bands – really? If that is true, then why pay out £1m for what is more than twice the annual usage?

Despite being warned that they should not litter streets in this way, it seems that many posties aren’t listening. This message is apparently being reinforced regularly at team briefings, but still the practice continues. The claim that the bands are more biodegradable than standard bands is supposed to make it OK, then?

Waste in businesses of all kinds is a major problem, and that problem almost always comes down to attitude. It has been said that no one complained about the rubber bands before the Royal Mail decided to adopt the red ones a few years back. So because no-one complained, it apparently didn’t matter – let’s just keep budgeting for more bands, it’s part of the way we do things around here. But now that people are complaining, and in some notable cases threatening to fine any postie caught in the act, what are the Royal Mail actually doing about the problem other than telling the troops to be more careful?

Small things always add up to become big things in the end. Rubber bands and other stationery items are classic examples. What does it matter if a couple of bands are discarded, or a few sheets of paper carelessly wasted and binned? In a large organisation such as the Royal Mail, it obviously adds up to quite a lot, actually. Wasteful attitudes will not be overcome through team briefings: when it is only words, without actions, then entrenched attitudes will prevail.

Accountability is required to bring about the change required. Using the rubber bands as an example, it should be possible to give each postie an annual allocation, with a reasonable amount of leeway to account for fluctuations outside their control. If the allocation is exceeded, then sanctions should be applied. When it is easy to replace items that someone else controls the budget for, then accountability on the part of individuals in the field just won’t happen naturally.

To end on a lighter note , this story really made me smile – seems the Royal Mail aren’t the only ones prepared to waste big money on the humble rubber band!