Barbie Plastic

A sustainable plastic strategy?

After lots of talk about plant-based plastics, a new sustainability wave is seeing toycos like Mattel and LEGO launch products made from discarded bottles.
July 9, 2021

It seems like discarded plastics may be a hot new toy trend. In the past month, both LEGO and Mattel have announced new products made from these found materials.

Mattel’s Barbie Loves the Ocean line (pictured) includes three dolls whose bodies are made from 90% recycled ocean-bound plastic parts. An accompanying Beach Shack playset with accessories is similarly composed. The range is part of the toymaker’s pledge to get to 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic material across all of its products and packaging by 2030.

LEGO, meanwhile, is working on a new brick prototype that uses PET plastic from discarded bottles. On average, a one-liter plastic PET bottle provides enough raw material for 10 standard 2×4 LEGO bricks. The prototype builds on a 2018 initiative that saw LEGO begin to produce a range of sustainable pieces made from plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane. Both actions are part of an overall commitment by the toyco to use sustainable materials in all of its core products and packaging by 2030.  

As kids increasingly look for ways to help the environment, are renewable plastics the next big thing in the toy industry?

Plant power

For a time, it seemed that plant-based plastics were the future for toy manufacturing. BiOBUDDi launched in the Netherlands four years ago, and the eco-friendly toyco has since invested around US$2 million in sustainable materials research and development.

According to BiOBUDDi’s own findings, processing one kilogram of its plant-based plastic takes three kilograms of CO2 out of the air. In comparison, traditional oil-based plastics yield significantly higher CO2 emissions (up to 3.46 kilograms depending on the type of plastic). Burning one liter of gas in a car, meanwhile, produces approximately 2.3 kilograms of CO2, according to Natural Resources Canada.

While eliminating traditional oil-based plastics from product ranges is one of the best ways for toymakers to limit their impact on the environment, it’s also incredibly expensive, says BiOBUDDi GM Job Nijssen.

Not only can the materials be more expensive, but companies will have to make changes to their manufacturing processes.” BiOBUDDi had to develop new molds in order to move forward with plant-based plastics—something that can be prohibitively expensive for smaller companies, making the switch a daunting prospect.

There are, however, several other options that don’t require a complete retooling of manufacturing.

Wrap it up

For its part, Hasbro is committed to phasing out plastic from all of its product packaging. The toyco has pledged to do away with polybags, elastic bands, shrink wrap, window sheets and blister packs by 2022.

In 2018, Hasbro also announced a pilot program that lets consumers send their old toys and games to recycling company TerraCycle, which will transform them into materials that can be used in a number of projects including play spaces, flower pots and park benches. Mattel took that idea one step further in May when it announced the Mattel PlayBack program, which is designed to recover and reuse materials from old products in the manufacturing of new toys.

“If you are manufacturing and selling products internationally, you will have that footprint,” Nijssen says. “What we can do is work to minimize our impact wherever possible.”

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