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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!
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