Will toys damage our children’s future?
Recycling plastic packaging is important, but recycling plastic toys is necessary.
Plastic is lightweight, flexible and colourful, moreover it is also economical and can be rapidly produced. We use it in medicine, life-saving tools and car production (thanks to its weight, cars are lighter and use less fuel). Plastic provide us a lot of comforts, but this generates the increase of plastic waste and environmental issues.
Although there is a lot of research about micro-plastics and plastic packaging waste, the impact of hard plastic is often neglected. Hard plastics are rigid plastic materials that cannot be recycled with standard methods and constitute the majority of objects we use in daily life. Examples of hard plastics are PET (polyethylene terephthalate, used to produce bottles and sheets), HDPE (high-density polyethylene, for detergent containers, plastic furniture and toys), PVC (polyvinyl chloride, tubes for constructions, joineries, vinyl floors, etc.), PP (polypropylene, for household items and street furniture) and PS (polystyrene, mainly used in small objects such as crockery and frames). Plastic packaging creates a lot of waste but when we buy a bottle of water, the mass of the plastic is only about 2% of its total weight. Plastic toys, however, are almost entirely made of hard plastic. For instance, a toy kitchen contains 5.6 kg of valuable plastic, the equivalent of 400 empty plastic water bottles. Children grow fast, their abilities and interests shift even faster therefore, toys are often thrown away after a short lifespan.
The biggest toy companies are aware of the impact of their products on the environment and are taking steps to become more sustainable.
In September 2020 the Danish company reported that it plans to replace plastic bags with paper ones inside box sets to hold loose bricks. The switch will start next year and the company aims to completely eliminate plastic bags by 2025. It said children liked the paper alternative "as they were environmentally friendly and easy to open.". Lego CEO Niels B Christiansen said in the statement: “We have received many letters from children about the environment asking us to remove single-use plastic packaging”.
This change is part of a EURO 340 million ($400 million) initiative to increase sustainability efforts over the next three years. Even if Lego bricks themselves are primarily made of plastic, the company expects its manufacturing operations to be carbon neutral by 2022.
Lego Group announced also it is already looking to expand the use of so-called “bio-bricks” made of sugar cane, which currently makes up 2% of its pieces. It said it was also researching other alternative materials to plastic and designing toys that would teach kids "sustainability through play.".
Mattel is an American multinational toy manufacturing company founded in 1945 with headquarters in El Segundo, California. Most popular brands in this company are Barbie, Fisher-Price, Polly Pocket and Hot Wheels. It is the world's second largest toy maker in terms of revenue, after The Lego Group.
In December 2019 the company announced its plan to achieve 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastics materials in both its products and packaging by 2030. The first step is to debut Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack made from sugarcane-based plastics and packaged in 100% recycled or sustainably sourced materials.
This new goal expands the Company’s Environmental Sustainable Sourcing Principles, announced in 2011. In 2018 the company produced 90% of the paper and wood fibres used in its packaging and products from recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) content. In 2020 this production increased to 93%. In addition, the Mattel has adopted the How2Recycle label, a standardized labelling system that communicates recycling instructions to the public.
At the beginning of the year, Mattel established an Environmental Sustainability Council: a multi-functional team of leaders dedicated to actively advancing the company’s sustainability efforts in several areas, including materials innovation.