Celeb Tattoo Artist, Bang Bang, on How Tattoos Can Be More Eco-Friendly (Exclusive)

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Jun. 21 2021, Published 4:18 p.m. ET

Whether you're passionate about ink, or if you stay informed on celebrity gossip, you're likely familiar with tattoo artist, Bang Bang — aka Keith McCurdy. He's inked countless big names, from LeBron James, to Rihanna, to Kylie Jenner, and while he's incredibly passionate about tattooing, Bang Bang is also passionate about the planet. Last week, he teamed up with plant-based food company, Lightlife, to "clean up" people's hot dog tattoos, free of charge, in honor of the vegan brand's new "clean" recipe.

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At the event, Bang Bang also took some time to also share his "Green Routine" with Green Matters to show fans and fellow artists how he tries to stay sustainable in a notoriously not-so-sustainable tattoo industry.

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Lightlife's latest pop-up event, which was held at Bang Bang's SoHo tattoo shop on Friday, June 18, invited anyone with hot dog tattoos to get a free touch-up from the renowned tattoo artist, while one lucky person also won a free original design by Bang Bang himself. In addition to enjoying free Smart Dogs which were being served on a grill outside, the humble artist, business owner, and dad thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of designing and touching up vegan hotdog tats.

"One of the things I'm most passionate about is repairing tattoos," Bang Bang tells me in the basement of the chic SoHo tattoo studio that he designed himself. "Redoing tattoos is one of my favorite things... I've just had fun with it. What really spoke to me was there was a challenge in this for me... Like, how do I visualize a veggie dog? A Smart Dog? As an artist, challenge accepted! I got to make a bunch of really fun designs, with a great team of people. "

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And obviously, he's a huge fan of the plant-based 'dogs themselves.

"It's so funny — my wife brought home six different hot dogs and one of them was the Lightlife hot dog and she had no idea I was doing this project. So, the first time she ever brought it home was two weeks ago, it was really great. I'm keto and we don't have buns, so I'm actually excited to taste the full experience," he laughs.

To learn more about how the well-being of planet earth influences Bang Bang's work as one of the most famous tattoo artists in the U.S., we asked him to share his Green Routine with Green Matters.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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Bang Bang with the winner of Lightlife's sweepstakes, to get a free hot dog tattoo.
Source: Lightlife

GREEN MATTERS: Why is protecting the planet important to you?

BANG BANG: I really love Earth. I am much more in touch with nature in my personal life now that I’m older. I am a guy who spends an hour photographing little crabs that come out of holes in the sand and they come out and I go 'boo!' and they run away. I do this by myself, I'm 35, and that’s what makes me happy. Things the world gives me I appreciate, so I understand I have to give back to it. So much of my job is to make people happy… and our planet is borrowed from our kids. I have kids, I respect that. 

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GM: What is one issue you see regarding sustainability in the tattoo industry?

BB: In many ways tattooing has become less sustainable. We’re using plastics more because it’s “safer” than cleaning tools. So for safety, tattooing in general has moved towards a less sustainable method. There are companies developing sustainable cornstarch plastics, but it’s not at a point yet where it’s safe to use for tattooing. We’re testing it all, we’re researching it all, and we have biodegradable plastic but honestly that term is a little [pauses]… something can "biodegrade" in 90 years. I don’t want to make a bunch of claims that we changed the industry — we’re trying to, and we’re making the effort. It's an enormous effort to change an industry. For ourselves, we try to purchase from companies that we know are using sustainable methods and are ethical.

GM: What is something you've done to make your practice more sustainable?

BB: We as a company try to do everything we can to use sustainable products as much as possible. I have been going to packaging conventions for years to understand chemicals that are used in things like plastics, procedures used to separate these things in recycling plants, which areas of the country are set up for certain kinds of recycling and which aren't... the skin product we’re developing was packaged in aluminum, because that's the most recycled material we can use at the moment. No one’s ever heard me say this, but it's stuff that’s actually important to us as we create things like products in skincare, as we move towards manufacturing tattoo equipment, sustainable products are at the first thought in our minds. There are a lot of roadblocks though. 

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Shipping also matters — it can be recyclable or organically grown, but if it was shipped across the planet it was really wasteful for you to eat that apple. In short, we have replaced single-use disposable items we used for tattooing in every area we can safely find a supply chain for. Things like purchasing from domestic suppliers instead of international — sometimes it costs a little more but understanding that shipping impacts the environment, so we’re really not saving money by buying cheaper things in the long run.

It's not something we brag about because everyone is kind of new at it. I don’t know if I heard that word before I was an adult. It’s not a narrative we articulate to customers, but we’re doing the foundation work so when we make something in mass scale it was authentically built and as sustainable as it can be.

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GM: What is one piece of advice you would give a tattoo artist, if they were looking to make their practice more sustainable?

BB: If a tattoo artist wants to be more sustainable, identifying what is single-use, like plastics, bags, and little cups — because they can be sourced and more sustainably than traditional items you get in a pharmacy. Beyond that, [changing] the method in which you use each product — if everything has a single-use applicator, that means there’s trash created for every tattoo. So if there’s an opportunity to buy things in mass, contain it safely, and then use it, you'll have one item of waste for every thousand person tattooed, instead of a thousand single items of waste. So being conscious of how you order stock in-store, and what things must be single use and what things can be ordered in mass are crucial. 

"Green Routine" is a series from Green Matters that invites notable people in the environmental space to share the efforts they make to live more sustainably.

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