Are Friendship Bracelets As Popular As Ever, And Do They Uphold Eco-Friendly Standards?

Are Friendship Bracelets As Popular As Ever, And Do They Uphold Eco-Friendly Standards?

Friendship bracelets crafted from vibrant plastic beads have been a staple for some time, but Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour has catapulted them into the spotlight.

Speculations suggest that the lyrics “So make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it,” from her 2022 Midnights album ignited this trend. However, bracelet exchanges among fans have been a tradition since Swift’s inaugural Fearless Tour in 2009-10.

With a staggering 281 million followers on Instagram alone, Swift’s influence is undeniable. In cities hosting her tour, Michaels, a North American arts and crafts retailer, reported a staggering 300% surge in sales of beads and jewelry leading up to her concerts, according to John Gehre, the chain’s merchandising overseer, speaking to USA Today.

Further fueling the craze, the hospital where Swift was born distributed handmade bracelets to babies born on December 13, coinciding with the pop star’s birthday.

Despite their endearing name, friendship bracelets fall short on eco-friendliness. Here’s a detailed examination of the lifecycle of these bracelets — from production to concerts to eventual disposal in landfills.

Extracting resources through mining and drilling

Shannon Smith, the executive director of FracTracker Alliance, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization, highlighted the often overlooked upstream impact of plastic pollution. This encompasses the entire production process of a product, from the extraction of natural resources to manufacturing and transportation.

Ninety-nine percent of all new plastic, including the beads utilized in friendship bracelets, originates from fossil fuels, predominantly oil and methane. These raw materials are obtained through mining or fracking.

Smith emphasized that fracking entails various environmental and health impacts at each stage of the process. Additionally, mining contributes to environmental degradation, resulting in water contamination, deforestation, soil erosion, and air pollution.

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Friendship Bracelets Extracting resources through mining and drilling

Following extraction, the raw materials undergo refining and cracking processes, breaking them down into smaller molecules such as ethylene or propylene. These molecules are then molded into plastic pellets known as nurdles, each measuring less than five millimeters in diameter and classified as microplastics.

“Nurdles are frequently transported over long distances by ship,” explained Erica Cirino, communications manager at Plastic Pollution Coalition and author of Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis. “Many of these container ships experience spills, allowing nurdles to easily escape into the ocean.”

According to a 2020 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, approximately 200 kilotonnes of nurdles leak into the ocean annually, exacerbating ocean pollution and endangering marine life. Cirino emphasized, “Virtually every creature in the ocean has ingested plastic at some point in their lives, if not on a daily basis.”

Shaping the plastic

The majority of plastic beads are manufactured using injection molding, a process that enables rapid and precise mass production of plastic items, albeit at a high energy cost.

The process begins with the heating and melting of nurdles. The molten plastic is then injected into steel molds and cooled using water to solidify the plastic. However, the water used in this cooling process often carries microplastics and chemicals, posing a risk of contaminating water supplies if not adequately treated.

The majority of plastic beads of Friendship Bracelets are manufactured using injection molding

Cirino pointed out that any given piece of plastic can contain over 16,000 different chemicals, and the treatment process may not capture all of them.

At this stage, the beads are prepared for packaging and shipping to stores.

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The aftermath situation

To the untrained observer, certain friendship bracelets may appear to be a random assortment of characters, but they actually depict beloved lyrics and memes. Swift enthusiasts exchange bracelets before, during, and after her performances, with some even continuing the tradition online and shipping them globally.

“Many of these plastic beads could persist for decades, if not longer,” remarked Susanne Brander, associate professor in the fisheries, wildlife, and conservation sciences department at Oregon State University. “We believe that every piece of plastic ever produced still exists in some capacity.”

friendship bracelets may appear to be a random assortment of characters

According to a 2022 report on plastic pollution by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, only nine percent of plastic waste is recycled globally. The report also highlights that 50 percent of plastic waste finds its way to landfills, while 19 percent is incinerated, releasing harmful chemicals into the air.

Brander advocates for individuals involved in making and exchanging friendship bracelets to consider sustainability and consumerism. She suggests that fans could create one or two bracelets instead of covering their entire arm.

Alternative bead materials, like wood or glass, pose fewer environmental risks. Additionally, there’s a growing trend towards plant-based beads, partly in response to environmental concerns related to events like Mardi Gras, where plastic bead necklaces are commonly thrown from parade floats to spectators. Some companies, like U.K.-based Brothers Make, even specialize in producing beads from recycled plastic waste.

Brander suggests that Taylor Swift, with her significant influence, has an opportunity to educate her followers. It would be beneficial if the pop star promoted the creation of more sustainable bracelets among her fans.

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