Recycling Mystery: Silicone Bracelets

Various charity silicone wristbands
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Ah, the colored wristband, the go-to fashion accessory of the 2000s. Whether you wore one to support a cause, you received it as a club VIP (or proof that you could legally drink) or it’s the last remnant of your Fitbit, you likely have some of these that you no longer wear.

Also known as gel bracelets, these wristbands are made of silicone, a polymer similar to rubber. While silicone is a popular material used for everything from sealants to cookware to contact lenses, you’re going to have a tough time finding a recycler for these bracelets.

The Livestrong Fadeout

Arguably, the peak of the silicone bracelet movement was in 2004, when Livestrong Foundation began selling yellow wristbands (made by Nike) for $1 to raise money for cancer research. The organization sold 21 million gel bracelets in 2005.

The face of Livestrong, cyclist Lance Armstrong, was found guilty of doping in 2012 and stripped of his Tour de France victories. By 2016, the charity had to find a recycling solution for 100,000 unwanted wristbands.

If you have one and simply want to stop supporting Armstrong, you can trade in your Livestrong wristband for a blue Cyclists Fighting Cancer wristband.

Durability as a Hindrance

Although silicone has many properties of plastic, it’s technically considered part of the rubber family and produced through a different process than typical plastics. The process involves extracting silicon and molding it into a polymer using hydrocarbons instead of carbon. This means the product is nearly indestructible, but it also won’t biodegrade or decompose.

Because it’s not manufactured like a plastic, you can’t simply recycle it at the curb even if your program accepts all sorts of plastics. While there is a process for recycling silicone, recyclers are unlikely to accept one or two bracelets, even if you are willing to mail them in. Earth911 is also unaware of any gel bracelet manufacturers that take back bracelets for recycling.

Bracelet Reuse Options

With no feasible recycling option, it’s time to get creative with reusing your old wristbands around the house. Here are a few options:

  1. Keep them in the kitchen drawer and when you have trouble opening a jar, wrap the bracelet around the lid (the silicone will give you a better grip)
  2. Use the bracelets to gather loose cords and cables inside the house or secure small trees to posts in your yard
  3. Use them to seal leaks in hoses and pipes

In other words, think of these silicone bracelets as a larger and more durable rubber band. Luckily, they won’t take up much space when you store them for future use.

And maybe next time you’re offered one to support a cause, you’ll just say no to the silicone wristband.

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger