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A Toy Story- circularity gives new life to old toys

As we all know, toys are a huge market. Capturing the imagination of billions of children yearly, however there are huge environmental questions and concerns regarding the future and sustainability of the toy market. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, nearly 2 billion tonnes of waste is being sent to landfill annually, with this in mind, 80% of toys produced in 2019 ended up in waste or landfill, which obviously means an awful lot of waste plastic. × .. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, around 40 million toys end up as waste each year in France alone. 

Many toy manufacturers are aware that there is an increased need for circularity within the sector, this is echoed in initiatives such as LEGO Replay which encourages the reuse and recycling of the aforementioned toy, the company claims: “The LEGO brick is recognized by LEGO owners to last for generations. We pride ourselves on the high quality and longevity of our brick. We know that 97% of LEGO owners keep or share their bricks, passing them on to friends or family. As part of our Planet Promise, we want to help LEGO owners ensure that LEGO bricks can be rebuilt and replayed with – having a new creative life.” The company recommends that LEGO be passed onto friends or onto friends, if you do not live in the US or Canada, actively promoting a circular economy. So far, LEGO claims it has recycled over 460,000 kgs of LEGO bricks through the scheme.

Similarly, and maybe more topically, Mattel, the creators of Barbie also have a similar reuse scheme. Where parents can return toys by returning them to Mattel with a free shipping label. According to a report in Forbes: “Mattel in late 2019 set a goal for itself of using 100% recycled, recyclable, or bio-based plastics in all of its toys and packaging by 2030. This April it announced a new green goal of reducing plastic packaging by 25% per product by 2030. has extended its research to the world of toys and proposed ideas to increase circularity within the sector, among these is the idea of ‘upcycling hubs’ in places such as shopping malls and libraries, according to the charity: “The collection points will serve as a go to place for children to bring their toys as well as create gathering points for them and parents (or grandparents). By bringing their old toys there, children will have the opportunity to attend fun workshops, where their toys can be sorted and categorised into those that can be upcycled and given a new life – while also educating children that once a toy is broken – it doesn’t mean that it needs to be thrown away.” The charity also insists that such hubs allow for other advances: “business and entrepreneurship by educating children to generate value from what traditionally would’ve been thrown away.”

Design is also a vital factor in extending the lifecycle of toys and avoiding plastic waste. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation choice of material and design ‘inform durability’ and inform companies what happens to toys once they reach the end of their lifecycles. 

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Publication date: 08/08/2023

European Plastic Product Manufacturer

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31