Rubber band girl

It started out as a simple question. 

As well as this website, I run a wiki about ways to pass on things you’re no longer using to people or organisations who might actually want them. (I suspect I’m the wiki’s only reader as well as its only contributor, but that’s beside the point.)

Elastic bands are one of those items that drift into your life unbidden, wrapped around piles of post or bunches of spring onions, until you end up with a useless pile of the things. So I decided to investigate. I began with a quick Google and found a couple of websites claiming that Royal Mail accept rubber bands for recycling. 

This would be, as the kids say, huge if true. So I asked the Royal Mail Twitter account directly and was delighted by the answer: 

“Hi Kate, you can post elastic bands straight into our Postboxes, no address required. If they’re usable we’ll reuse them, if not then they’ll be recycle(d)”.

I happily updated my wiki while Rubber Band Twitter digested the news. (Turns out Rubber Band Twitter is a thing, and turning your accumulated rubber bands into a ball the size of a tennis ball, then sharing pictures of it, is also very much a thing.) 

And that was the end of it…until a BBC reporter rang to ask me for an interview. Why? Turns out the story was picked up by multiple news sources. A quick websearch turned up stories from the Belfast Telegraph, the Manchester Evening News, the Jersey Evening Post and more.  

But the BBC interview was not to be…because the reporter actually checked with Royal Mail, who promptly panicked, denied it and deleted the original tweet. I followed up with their press office myself and they confirmed it had been an error. They even added a page to their website specifically debunking the claim

This episode tells us something about how misinformation spreads. I only asked the question because I found web sources giving me postal addresses for a “Royal Mail recycling scheme” which apparently has never existed. Was I the only person who’s ever contacted Royal Mail directly to check, or just the only one who caused enough of a fuss to make them set the record straight?

Although I was quoted in dozens of news articles, nobody attempted to contact me until the BBC did, and I’m guessing nobody contacted the Royal Mail press office either. I’m guessing one or maybe two of the regional press publishers covered it and then ran an identical story across all their titles. Which made it look as if dozens of different “local” newspapers were covering it. 

Since then, almost all the news stories about this have been deleted, although at the time of writing indy100 still has something up. But somebody has turned the Royal Mail’s tweet into an image and posted it on Facebook. It periodically appears in my feed, or someone ignorant of the whole furore sends it to me as a piece of positive recycling-related news. 

I vainly try to set the record straight, but people quite reasonably don’t understand why I think I know better than their friend who “saw it on Facebook”. The depressing reality is that it’s not currently possible to recycle elastic bands. The even more depressing thing is that in attempting to establish the truth, I’ve added to the giant pile of bollocks currently circulating unquestioned on social media. If you’re a postie sick of people shoving rubber bands into the boxes on your collection round, I’m truly sorry.