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The Environmental Impact of Yarn Bombs

I LOVE yarn bombs! As a fiber artist, I appreciate the attention they bring to fiber arts, especially knitting and crocheting. The textures and colors and message of wrapping something in yarn outdoors, whether a tree or fence or stairs or whatever, makes me happy because yarn bombs are about spreading happiness.

I recently saw this tweet from #WOMENSART that shows a massive yarn bomb covering the steps of Helsinki’s Cathedral.

Tweet from #WOMENSART (@womensart1), "Yarn bombing the steps of Helsinki's Cathedral #womensart," February 3, 2021, https://twitter.com/womensart1/status/1356885825682874370.
Tweet from #WOMENSART (@womensart1), “Yarn bombing the steps of Helsinki’s Cathedral #womensart,” February 3, 2021, https://twitter.com/womensart1/status/1356885825682874370.

That amount of work takes serious dedication, a quality that all the fiber artists of my acquaintance have in spades.

But, seeing that much vibrantly colored yarn got me to thinking: What happens to yarn bombs once they’ve served their temporary purpose and what yarn did these fiber artists use? For a piece of this scale and vibrancy, it is likely that a lot of acrylic yarn was used because acrylic yarn tends to be inexpensive and colorfast.

Acrylic yarn is plastic, which does not break down easily or absorb readily into the natural ecosystem. The teeny-tiny fibers that shed off of acrylic yarn (microplastics) float around and can be ingested or inhaled by microorganisms, animals, and humans. The research is still out on what effect these microplastics have on biological organisms. Certainly much larger pieces of plastic have had devastating effect on wildlife. Most of us have seen photos of whales with guts filled with plastic or animals caught in the plastic rings that hold 6-pack cans. I can’t imagine there isn’t some negative effect on all of us from microplastics.

I’d like to suggest that future fiber artists try to use natural fibers for their yarn bombs, something that will disintegrate without causing ill effects on the natural environment.

In the meantime, what happens to yarn bombs just after they are removed from where they are installed? Inquiring minds want to know.

Comments welcome! Let me know what you think.