How Eco-Friendly are your Guitar Strings?

There’s little doubt that our planet is facing a climate crisis and nowadays there’s no shying away from doing your bit to help. This is especially true for businesses, with every industry having a key role to play in helping to become more eco-friendly and save our planet for generations to come.

So where do our guitar strings fall into all of this? What can the brands do to help and what areas can they focus on to help improve their carbon footprint?  Below we’re going to discuss what the future may look like for the manufacturing and production of guitar strings and we’ll also see if there is anything we as the consumer can do to help?

Let’s get stuck in!

Sourcing and Production

The first thing we’ll look at is how the strings are actually sourced and produced.  There’s plenty of chinese whispers around as to which brands actually make their own guitar strings.

We often hear our customers say;
“I’ve heard that there’s only one or two string factories in the world and they make strings for all the other brands.”

Well, whilst there are some brands that don’t actually make their own guitar strings (spoiler alert.. sorry!) there are still plenty of manufacturers out there who proudly make their own strings from start to finish. The size of these factories varies, however, making strings (especially on a large scale) requires huge amounts of machinery that consequently use a large amount of energy such as gas and electricity.

Naturally, using these energy sources to excess will have a negative effect on the environment but what can brands do to help reduce their levels of energy consumption without their production volumes suffering?

Using energy companies that provide green energy such as renewable electricity and carbon neutral gas is hopefully an area they would look to explore. Where possible, some brands may even go down the road of creating their own energy through the use of solar panelling at their manufacturing plants.

Research and development into creating more efficient string-making machinery would obviously be another area that string manufacturers could explore, however, we appreciate that these improvements don’t necessarily happen overnight.

Jon Moody, Manager of Product development at GHS Strings in Michigan, USA told us that “we (GHS) strive to be as eco-conscious as possible, and are always on the lookout for new ways to go green in every aspect of the production process.”

Packaging

Becoming more carbon-neutral may pose quite an issue for the guitar string industry. After all, they have a responsibility towards producing great strings that arrive in the hands of the customer as fresh as the day they were made so packaging that preserves their lifespan is paramount.

It’s also easy to forget that before your strings even make it onto your guitar, they will often have travelled a long distance and had to endure a range of varying temperatures, humidities and atmospheric conditions that can potentially affect them. And that’s just one part of the story… Your strings may sit on the shelves of a guitar shop or in a supplier’s warehouse for several months before they even make it into your hands. As a result, the packaging needs to be “Fort Knox-esque” to prevent any of these potential nasties attacking their outer surface.

If you’ve been playing the guitar for a longer period of time, you may have noticed that string packaging has certainly evolved over the years with brands exploring a whole host of different solutions in a bid to maintain the freshness of their products.

But what has this meant for the environment? And, just how environmentally friendly is the new packaging the string brands use? For instance, many brands use a cardboard outer wrap for their strings. Often this is emblazoned with logos and fancy images, but how recyclable is the type of cardboard they use? It’s our understanding that the vast majority of cardboard is recyclable, however, some fancier packaging can have a wax coating which doesn’t always make it so easy to recycle. And what about the popular foil or plastic wrapping used by brands nowadays? Can this go in the pink recycling bag at home?

Before we started reaching out to the string brands whilst conducting research for the blog, it was our understanding that a lot of the packaging wasn’t actually recyclable at all.  The reason being very few sets display this information with only D’Addario and Martin appearing to openly convey the recycling info on the outside of their packaging.

If you’re anything like us, recycling can sometimes get a little confusing. We often find ourselves standing over our bins at home, contemplating whether our string packets can go in the recycling or not. Without the helpful prompts on the back of some packaging, it’s often very difficult to know what’s what, so we’d love to see more of the string manufacturers starting to print their recycling info more clearly.

After reaching out to them, Ernie Ball were one of the big brands we were glad to hear were well on top of their recycling game. After chatting to their team in the USA they confirmed that “the majority of material from each Ernie Ball pack is recyclable, and in many cases 100% is recyclable.”
The also went on to say “Most sets are packaged in metalized film with recyclable paper envelopes inside which translates to over 90% of the packaging material in each set being recyclable. Packaging for singles is also fully recyclable with the clear flow wrap packaging used around the outside being made from 100% polypropylene (plastic code #5)”

Closer to home, we also spoke to Rotosound’s Jason How about the environmental issues surrounding string manufacturing. Rotosound have been making strings since the 1960’s in Sevenoaks, Kent and back in 2014 they made the decision to create their own eco-friendly packaging solution by packaging all their strings in one individual heat sealed piece of foil.
Here’s what Jason, said about the transition, “Historically, sets of strings would be sold in a plastic sleeve containing a card insert and individual paper envelopes for each string. After the new set was installed and tuned up to pitch, players are faced with a lot of packaging which more often than not ends up in the bin. In 2014 we made the commitment of reducing all this to just one foil packet which has proved to be extremely successful among eco-conscious musicians.”

As well as avoiding excessive waste, this innovation also makes each pack of strings very light and compact (for example, a 6-string Rotosound electric guitar set weighs in as little as 3g compared with the standard 25g from most other competitors).

As an added bonus, this in turn reduces Rotosound’s carbon footprint as it allows them to ship twice as many sets on each container leaving the Rotosound factory, requiring fewer lorries and therefore a cut in emissions.

This is a very interesting point made by Jason.  If you take into account the fuel and carbon emissions emitted in getting a set of American made strings over here to the UK, you can start to see that buying a British made string certainly has a more eco-friendly appeal to the environmentally conscious amongst us.

Ernie Ball were also keen to point out the benefits of reducing the packaging weight as a means of reducing the impact on the environment. Back in 2008, they introduced the use of flexible flow wrap packaging for individual sets. This move not only improved shelf life but reduced the packaging weight from 6 grams to less than 1 gram per package. Multiply this effect over thousands of sets of strings and you can start to see the impact this has.

Ernie Ball pledged “Our company has and will continue looking at the way we package products to determine the most efficient methods possible while ensuring that they are well preserved for our customers around the globe”

As brands continue to research new ways to become eco-friendly, there’s a distinct possibility that new avenues may make the production process longer and more costly for the manufacturers. If so, there’s a good chance that this increase in production cost could be passed on to the end user.

As players, would we be happy with slightly higher priced sets if we knew that our strings were being made using practises that were aligned with saving the planet? It would be interesting to hear your take on this?

If you’re an environmentally conscious player, would you prefer to buy a set of strings from a company that was more eco-friendly than another, even if you preferred the tone and playability of the less eco-conscious brand? Or does your commitment to tone and playability win in this instance? We’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this?

What about the coated string brands?

An interesting point to consider would be whether coated string brands feel that they have an advantage in this instance. Brands such as Elixir or Cleartone’s entire product line comprise of strings that are coated. As a result, changing atmospheric conditions and factors such as moisture and humidity pose less of a threat to the surface of a coated string than that of an uncoated string.

As a result, it would seem that these brands may be able to afford to use more eco-friendly packaging without the worry of their strings corroding whilst in transit across seas or sitting in a cold warehouse for months on end.

We hasten to add that we like to make sure our stock here at Strings Direct turns over at quite a fast pace so we rarely have sets sitting on our shelves for a prolonged period of time 😉

What can we do as players to help become more eco-conscious?

Ah the million dollar question!! Because of the scale of the environmental crisis, it’s often easy to question where we as individuals fit into all of this part of the equation, and what we can really do to help?

Obviously disposing of our strings and it’s packaging correctly is a great place to start. This is why we felt that it would be a really useful idea for the string brands to start to include the recycling information on the back of the packet… this way there would be no question of how to recycle the packaging.

“But what about the strings themselves? Can you recycle guitar strings?”

D’Addario are one of the bigger manufacturers that actively promote their commitment to positive environmentally friendly activities with their website stating they are committed to “a profound impact on music, not the earth.”

Being one of the biggest string brands in the world, D’Addario have spearheaded their very own recycling scheme called “Playback”, billed as ‘The World’s Leading String Recycling Program’. This unique programme has been developed in conjunction with Terracycle, an innovative recycling company that focuses specifically on hard-to-recycle waste… instrument strings being one of them!

According to D’Addario’s website, at the time of writing they have saved nearly 5 million strings from landfill and are hoping to grow that number to 7 million by the end of 2020!! Bravo D’Addario, we salute you!!

They have even gone a step further and joined forces with Martin Strings who have become a partner in the PlayBack program.  There are also a large number of guitar and music stores across the USA that have been designated as ‘ recycling center’ drop off points. If you are local to any of these stores, you can take your old strings in store (they don’t even have to be D’Addario either!) and the shop will then pass them on to TerraCycle to be recycled properly.

As an added incentive, D’Addario also offer extra Players Points (their own reward scheme) for those who actively make use of the ‘Playback’ scheme…. “Save the planet and get some freebies whilst doing it!?! Sounds like a win, win to us! 🙂

We at Strings Direct love this idea and would love to see a programme like this make it’s way over to the UK and would be the first to sign up! Whilst it is technically possible to recycle guitar strings in the UK, it’s not such a straightforward process as we don’t readily have the dedicated facilities for this to be carried out at our recycling centres. We really like the idea of this here at Strings Direct so will keep our ears to the ground on whether this can be rolled out to the wider UK market. That being said, Terracycle do exist in the UK and are able to recycle strings using their “All-in-one” boxes (NB these are chargeable).

Here at Strings Direct, we also like to do our bit too! Most recently, we have partnered up with the guys over at The GuitarWrist. The Guitarwrist is a non-profit organisation that makes bespoke jewellery items from old guitar strings. We’ll be regularly donating used strings to these guys in the coming months as we see it as a great way of reusing old strings and preventing them from entering landfill. Not only that, they also make jewellery pieces from strings that have been graced by the hands of some of the biggest names in music including Sting, Slash, Black Stone Cherry and many other huge named artists, with all proceeds from sales donated to the artists’ charity of choice. Just this week, Brit Award winner Sam Fender posted an image on Instagram of his strings recreated into a cool bracelet.

Conclusion

We’d love to hear all of your thoughts on the string industry fighting to become more eco-friendly.

Innovation needs to be at the heart of the solution, with companies needing to improve their efficiency and looking at areas where they feel they can really help make a difference to becoming more environmentally friendly.

We would also be curious to find out what your take is on staying committed to your favourite string brand, even if you knew there were more eco-conscious companies out there actively committed to bringing down their carbon footprint down, would you feel quite easy about changing brands in light of this issue? Or do you feel far too committed to a brand of string that means you’d find it difficult to tear yourself away from using them.

We know that this has been a bit of a whopper of a blog but as always we thank you all for taking the time to read it.   Have a great weekend, we’ll see you in the next blog post!

29 Comments

  • HJ

    Interesting. I like elixirs because I am not good at changing strings. Because I use fewer packs, I assume that is good for the environment. Which strings do you think are best in this respect?

    • John schofield

      I have been wearing Bracelets made from woven guitar strings for the last couple of years. I buy Martin strings.

      • Tony Nurse

        As a guitarists of advancing years and young grandchildren, I’m very aware and careful that i recycle as much as possible. Two of my guitars are fitted with Kahler vibratos, which, unlike Floyd Rose, are not double-locking, being only clamped by the string lock behind the nut. This means there’s a lot of stress at the ball-end when dive-bombing for instance, resulting in breakage. However, a few years ago, I tried Ernie Ball’s RPS 9-46 sets which have a reinforced winding on the top three strings. Suffice to say, I’ve never broken one!
        I don’t know about the outer foil package, but the inner packets certainly go in the recycle bin.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Hilary,
      Thanks for the comment. Using a brand such as Elixir will certainly mean that you’re going through strings at a slower rate, therefore reducing the amount of strings needed to be recycled. That being said, if you were looking to explore other brands (particularly those that are more eco-conscious) as you can see there are several who are quite open about how they are doing their bit. That is not to say that other brands aren’t, they just may not be so vocal about their eco-friendly practises at the moment. We’ve got a feeling with the world becoming more eco-focused, it will be something all brands will start to advertise sooner or later as a selling point.

  • Chris Rees

    May I congratulate you on the quality of the grammar, and of the language in general, in your articles; it is just about the highest I have come across.
    This particular article (HOW ECO-FRIENDLY ARE YOUR GUITAR STRINGS?) was interesting and illuminating. My own knowledge of the metallurgical industry suggests that metal re-cycling in itself is not particularly difficult, unlike say, multi-layered packaging incorporating cellulose-based and plastics materials. Consequently, I always make a point of taking my used strings to the metal re-cycling container at our local re-cycling centre. I am hopeful, though not entirely optimistic, that from there they will be effectively re-cycled.
    Packaging is beyond my control, but I am pleased to see a general decline in the volume of packaging material and naturally I re-cycle what I can. Transport costs are also beyond my control, but wherever possible, I try to buy products made closer to home, and of course, as you point out, less packaging = less fuel for transport.
    Would I jeopardise quality (tone, playability, durability etc) in the interests of greater eco-friendliness? No, I’m afraid not, but I would readily pay a premium for a high quality product that was less damaging to environment.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Chris, thanks for the comments.
      You are certainly right, there are definitely things that are out of our control such as packaging and transport. We have a feeling that as time goes on, increased pressure from governments and socially will mean that all companies will start to take a look at every aspect of the supply chain and what they’re doing.
      Thanks again

  • Francis I Cooper

    Guitar and Bass strings are expensive enough without you making them even more expensive. This echo-mania is becoming utterly ridiculous. There are some of us who are living on a budget and can’t afford to pay the excessive costs you seem to think are acceptable. The reality is that those people who are on a budget won’t be able to afford the strings they need and they will be forced to stop playing.

    • I run a guitar repairs and setups business and would happily recycle strings, as the amount of strings I dispose of is ridiculous.

      I heard D’Addario were doing something, but was disappointed to see nothing in the UK.

      Keep us posted

      • stringsdirect

        Will do Chris! Fingers crossed something isn’t too far around the corner

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Francis, thanks for your comment. Rest assured this blog post certainly wasn’t an article to request brands to increase the price of their strings. Rather we were just highlighting the fact that all business’ are under increased scrutiny to become more eco-friendly and we were looking at what elements the guitar string industry may look at in light of this.

      Regarding the increased prices, this is just a scenraio we thought may happen as a result of brands being forced to change their practises. We don’t like price increases as much as you guys and we like to keep our prices as low as we can, however, unfortunately we cannot control what may be inevitable in this instance. Fingers crossed though.

    • Nick T

      Who is this “you” that you refer to making them more expensive?
      It is not ridiculous to look to sustain the future of the planet and if it does result in slight cost increases for what is at the end of the day a non essential item then it is a small price to pay.

  • I’ve wondered about the eco-friendliness of strings before, so I was very interested to read this blog post. I currently use D’Addarios and I’m quite happy to see that they’re doing pretty well with the recycling – although like you guys I was disappointed when I saw that their recycling scheme is US-only.

    I think if the strings I was using were from a company that was pretty terrible on recycling etc then it would make me look at switching to a more green brand.

    I’ll investigate Guitawrist, maybe they can take my old strings!

    • Ian

      we’ll take your old strings !! We’re currently talking to all the guitar strings manufacturers on how to recycle properly

    • stringsdirect

      I think most people will agree with you there Kerry, thanks

  • E.M.

    Rotosound give you a spare top E but with their current packaging you don’t have a paper envelope to keep it in so it lies in the guitar case and gets rusty. Better just losing the spare string and reducing the cost and environmental impact.

    • stringsdirect

      That’s an interesting point Euan, thanks for pointing that out. Perhaps down the line, a grip seal on the top of the Rotosound packs may be useful to store the spare high E.

    • Hi E.M.
      We’ll take this on board and work towards a solution. We’re determined to be even more environmentally-friendly and string-life is a major factor in this.
      We’re keeping attention to this post and appreciate everyone’s feedback.

      • stringsdirect

        Thanks Jack, really appreciate you chipping in 🙂

    • Barry Jones

      Great article. We all need to do our bit for the environment but are we still producing the same amount of plastic. I think maybe thats a yes. I stopped using ernie ball mandolin strings because i was cutting off, almost, a string length in waste. I think that they are the same length as guitar strings but with a loop end. What a waste

  • Paul

    I have to use Elixir coated strings due to my X-men-style sweat. These last for months and so I’d say that coated strings are the way to go (albeit not great for a business selling strings..) For this reason, I’m happy to pay the premium as it makes perfect economic sense.

    If a British company like Rotosound could make a coated string as good as the Elixirs (not all coated strings are created equal – having tried D’addario’s new ones I can attest to this), I’d buy them. Maybe they could make them under licence? No more shipping across the Atlantic….

  • Deborah

    Interesting blog. My partner and I try to recycle, re-use or re-purpose as much as possible so I would certainly be interested in buying more eco-friendly products.

    Are you able to take used strings? I have 5 guitars of my own, my son also has 5 guitars and between us we know many guitar students/players who I’m sure would be happy to pass on their strings for re-use/recycling.

    • stringsdirect

      Hi Deborah,
      We don’t have our own recycling scheme as yet but something we’re looking into for the future. In the meantime, Terracycle are a good point of contact, or The Guitar Wrist may be happy to take them off of your hands 🙂 Hope that helps

  • Matt

    I purchased a replacement pack of Dunlop nickel strings and the individual paper envelopes for each string had been replaced by all strings packed inside a sealed plastic bag. Dunlop claim this is for freshness and also environmental reasosn, yet how can single use plastic be better than paper? Also, if you are just chnaging one string and not the whole set, it then becomes very difficult to get the single string you want out from a bundle of 6 strings all wrapped up together, then getting the other 5 coiled back inside the packet. If you’re not careful you can get them all tangled up then the whole packet is wasted. And how is that good for the environment?

  • Matt

    I purchased a replacement pack of Dunlop nickel strings and the individual paper envelopes for each string had been replaced by all strings packed inside a sealed plastic bag. Dunlop claim this is for freshness and also environmental reasosn, yet how can single use plastic be better than paper? Also, if you are just chnaging one string and not the whole set, it then becomes very difficult to get the single string you want out from a bundle of 6 strings all wrapped up together, then getting the other 5 coiled back inside the packet. If you’re not careful you can get them all tangled up then the whole packet is wasted. And how is that good for the environment?

  • Drums are either made from plastic or wood, and as long as the wood is from a sustainable source, then it is the better option in the long term.

    • Tristam Douglas

      It is my opinion that we need to consider deeper issues than just recycling and minimisation of packaging.

      Coated strings last far longer but the PTFE coating is far from sound regarding the pollution it generates.

      Cobalt strings sound amazing but where does Ernie Ball source the metal? Is it mined using child labour as in the Congolese?

      This is a difficult topic.

  • Taylor

    I would be interested to understand what materials the strings are made of and how those materials are sourced from nature. Even if we are recycling the strings, how can we reduce the use of precious materials and the often destructive side effects mining them has on the surrounding eco-systems.

    Further, with the recycling program what is the end of life for the strings that are being recycled? Are they being turned back into strings or something else? Many times we think recycling is “good” for the planet, but it is important to keep in mind the process of recycling. Just like the process of manufacturing, melting down metal strings to a molten form and then turning them into something else would require high heat intensive processes which is often done through burning gas and electricity as mentioned earlier in this article!

    I recently read an article that speaks about recycling as a form of outsourcing our waste so we do not have to look at it. I like the ideas of reusing the strings as jewelry and recently had an idea to use the strings as a guide for canopying plants around the garden.

    As for recycling, I would like to see the industry moving toward a solution to melt old strings down, and turn them into new, recycled strings using green energy. Of course, these changes take time, the drive of the consumer, and the responsibility and transparency of the manufacturer.

  • Henke Håkansson

    Peculiar read really. The material of the coated strings are left out. You should take a good look at those instead. The material, that is coating the strings. I find it funny, too, that whenever there’s a headless instrument around, all manufacturers and reviews, lauds and think it is an advantage that they come with a headpiece that can accept single ball end strings as opposed to double ball end strings. Now think for a while, how much excess strings you have to cut off and throw directly in the bin, albeit being it recycling bin? If using a double ball end string you’re using 99 percent of its total length all of the time, you do not need to throw away anything until the string is played and worn to death. People have this prejudice, that you must use your favorite brand, when actually any major brand will do. I have swayed and changed direction from single ball end strings to double ball end strings when it comes to headless instruments. They sound the same, and the amount of tools you need to change strings anytime, ever, are ZERO. Thinking of the added amount where you have to cut off excess at even headstocked instrument whenever buying brand new strings and strap them on, is daunting, environmentally speaking. Now, headless has seemed to make a slow resurgence, as even Ibanez has started to make basses, with bodies, and Strandbergs super-ergonomical creations has got some air under its wings in the new djent metal genre. However, with those that are multiscale, I can very well understand that string manufacturers don’t want to make double ball end strings for each and every customized scale.

    • Henke Håkansson

      And on top of this : YOU (no one else) is paying for the excess string slack that you have to throw away in the bin, whenever putting on new strings on any guitar, or bass, after cutting them. Think now, how much you pay for double ball end string, it’s all the length you pay for and make ample mileage out of

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