Mattel Introduces New Toy Recycling Program for Barbies, Matchbox Cars, and More

Image: Mattel

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Come on, Barbie! Let’s go…recycle? You read that right; Mattel has introduced a new program called “Mattel PlayBack,” where kids of all ages can send in their old toys to be recycled into new ones. While the pilot program will only be available in the U.S. and Canada, Mattel hopes to have programs in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in the future. Mattel joins a growing number of toy companies implementing recycling and donation programs to operate more sustainably.

Why This Matters: Toys are essential for any child, but 90% of today’s toys are made of plastic. 

Professor Tensie Whelan, former head of the Rainforest Alliance and director of the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, explained the scale of the toy industry’s climate woes. “We’ve got 60 million kids under 14 in the United States. We’ve got 90 percent of toys made of plastic. We have chemical issues, waste disposal issues, social supply chain issues. So, a lot of things that need to be addressed.” 

During the pandemic, toy sales surged as families struggled to avoid boredom in lockdown, and now, they may be looking to reduce clutter. But experts say it’s time to start treating our plastic as a precious commodity rather than disposable. Mattel’s new program does just that.

Life in Plastic: Mattel previously pledged to use 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials for its products and packaging by 2030. The PlayBack program will encourage consumers to ship their old Barbie dolls, Matchbox cars, and more back to the company for free. There, the toys will be sorted by material type and recycled. Any materials that cannot be used in new toys will either be down-cycled into plastic products or converted from waste to energy. 

Mattel’s global head of sustainability, Pamela Gill-Alabaster, told CNN Business, “we get to keep these valuable materials out of a landfill and have the opportunity to learn from the circular model.” Currently, 72% of the nation’s plastic ends up in landfills, and recycling and waste management systems were overwhelmed in 2020 as medical and delivery waste piled up.

This isn’t Mattel’s first foray into toy recycling.

  • In 2020, the company tested a program with New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle.
  • The recycling company has also worked with toy giants like Hasbro, which produces iconic plastic play-things like Mr. Potato Head and Transformers.

LEGO Group, which in 2019 was the world’s largest toy company, has also implemented a recycling program for its iconic plastic bricks.

  • LEGO Group has produced 400 billion plastic LEGO bricks, 62 per person on earth.

Controlling a plastic footprint that high is no small task, but the company says its recycling and reuse process saves up to 80% of resources needed to produce new bricks. Experts hope that this is a sign that toy companies are beginning to value plastic as more than disposable, and are willing to shift away from the throw-away culture of the past as the nation attempts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.


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