It’s a touching story of a dad sitting down to craft with his daughters who were weaving bracelets out of rubber bands. Cheong Choon Ng hoped he could impress his girls, then 9 and 12 years old, with the weaving skills he had learned in Malaysia as a boy twisting and linking rubber bands into skipping ropes. But his fingers were too big to weave little hair elastics, so his engineering brain kicked in. After 28 iterations of a plastic weaving loom, the Nissan crash safety engineer had invented the Rainbow Loom. Kids everywhere go crazy. Sales go through the roof. DIY dad quits his day job. With no end in sight to this crafting tool and craze, we ask: Is the Rainbow Loom, its elastic bands and its plastic accessories, any good for the environment?
It’s a fair question. This toy is flying off shelves – it’s the second best selling toy or game on Amazon, with over 3.5 million units sold – so its materials and manufacturing process will have an impact on the environment. As far as new toys go, it seems like a pretty wholesome one. Remember when we used fingers for toys, and not just our thumbs? Most parents of children and tweens who are ‘hooked’ on the Rainbow Loom are enthusiastic about the product: it gets them off of their electronic devices, it calls for imagination, develops patience, and can be used as a social activity. Pinterest and Instagrams show reams of weaving designs and ideas; You Tube how-to videos are generating a gazillion hits. But we really must ask, Where will all these non-latex rubber bands and plastic looms end up?
A writer in the Washington Post suggests that these brightly colored elastics could pose a hazard to wildlife, choking and suffocating small animals and birds, just like plastic bags.
We can also ask ourselves what has happened to the scores of Silly Bandz from every kid’s wrists, fingers and top drawers. They disappeared almost as quickly as they hit the market. Gone. My son sold his 2-year collection for 50 cents at a garage sale. So, while the Rainbow Loom mega trend is something that most youngsters and parents can get behind, there is a conversation to be had, an awareness to develop, a resolve to gain. To use resources wisely, to dispose of materials properly, to brainstorm for eco-friendly solutions. Ng describes his entrepreneurial success “a dream come true”, and while we can’t argue with that, we look forward to a generation of ever greener, less wasteful inventions and toys.