Where is the new frontier for alternative plastics? How about the toy aisle, packed with colorful plastic figurines, gadgets and pretty little boxes?
Toy producer Mattel, for one, thinks its products could use a material makeover. Last month, the company announced a new goal: transitioning its toys and packaging to 100 percent recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic by 2030.
The company that owns brands such as Barbie, Fisher-Price and Hot Wheels will launch its first fully sustainable item in 2020: a revamp of the Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack using sugarcane-based plastic and recycled or sustainably sourced packaging.
The transformation of these beloved toy tubes, designed to teach toddlers about relative size and stacking, will not only decrease Mattel's ecological footprint. The company infers that its streamlined materials will also be more recyclable.
Mattel shows promise in achieving its new goal. The company surpassed its 2018 goal of transitioning to 90 percent recycled material for its paper and wood packaging. Packaging currently consists of 93 percent recycled paper and wood fiber.
Progress has been a long time coming — Mattel began its sustainability journey in 2011 with a set of “sustainable sourcing principles” — and it’s not slowing down. The company established an Environmental Sustainability Council earlier this year, and part of the team’s sanction is in materials innovation.
“Innovation is part of our DNA, and it is central to our work in environmental sustainability,” Richard Dickson, president and chief operating officer of Mattel, said in a press statement. “Our world-class designers have consistently created products that can be passed on to generations and, today, we are continuing this proud tradition with our new sustainable Rock-a-Stack, one of the most iconic and best-selling toys in the toy industry.”
First and foremost, investing in a reduction in conventional petroleum-based plastics is an investment in the viability of the global economy. The United Nations Environment Program puts the global cost of marine plastic pollution at $13 billion a year.
Investors have noticed the threat plastics pose to their portfolios and are beginning to reach out to companies about making changes to their principles and operations. Last year, investors representing $1 trillion in assets joined a Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance under the purview of the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow. The coalition of investors began their campaign with consumer goods giants Nestle, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and Unilever.
Mattel is ahead of the curve with its recycled paper and wood packaging, but only by an inch. Governments around the world are beginning to ban plastic packaging. The European Commission’s 2018 “plastics policy strategy,” for example, requires all packaging within the European Union to be recyclable by 2030. Mattel’s plastics commitment aligns with the EU’s timetable and surpasses existing United States regulations.
Like investors, citizens are asking for more. A survey by Accenture across 11 countries found that 83 percent of consumers think it is important or extremely important that companies design products to be reused or recycled. Seventy-two percent said they buy more “environmentally friendly” products today than they did five years ago. And most said they expect to buy even more sustainably-developed items over the next five years.
Staying ahead of global government policy aligns Mattel with its customers and investors, who will likely continue to demand more positive change from the companies they support.
If Mattel achieves its goal of 100 percent sustainable plastics, it will join the likes of shoe company Rothy’s, compostable tableware company Repurpose and clothing company Recover Brands. Amongst massive businesses owning multiple large brands, though, Mattel is helping to pave the way.
“Environmental sustainability is a corporate priority at Mattel and creating sustainable products and packaging is an important part of our commitment to the planet,” Ynon Kreiz, chairman and CEO of Mattel, said in a press statement. “Our dedicated cross-functional team made sustainability a key priority throughout the product and packaging design and production process. Today, we are delivering on that priority by announcing our first product made from sustainable materials and we look forward to expanding our efforts to all Mattel brands.”
Image courtesy of Mattel
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.