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The recent frenzy surrounding the Barbie movie not only led to a global shortage of fluorescent pink paint but also highlighted the excessive plastic waste generated by toy crazes. When movies or TV shows capture the cultural zeitgeist, toymakers churn out plastic toys, resulting in a significant environmental impact. Toys are the most plastic-intensive consumer goods globally, with recycling options being limited due to the complex mixture of materials they contain.

Source: TED-Ed/YouTube

Consider the iconic Barbie doll. The creation of each doll carries a substantial carbon footprint. Research shows that a single 182-gram Barbie doll produces approximately 660 grams of carbon emissions, including plastic production, manufacturing, and transportation. This carbon footprint extends to other toys as well, averaging around 4.5 kilograms of emissions per kilogram of toys. If we scale up these numbers, the plastics industry’s emissions in the US are projected to surpass those of coal within seven years.

So, how can we reduce our emissions without banning plastic toys altogether? Toy manufacturers and governments play a crucial role in addressing this challenge. Toymakers can prioritize low-carbon materials and supply chains, design toys for easy disassembly, and minimize packaging waste. Battery-powered toys should be avoided whenever possible to prevent electronic waste. Mattel, the maker of Barbie, has taken a positive step by launching a recycling scheme in 2021, allowing customers to send back old toys for repurposing. However, such programs need to be expanded globally, including in Australia.

At the design stage, toymakers must carefully choose more sustainable materials. Governments can Support these efforts by penalizing environmentally harmful plastics and establishing effective recovery and recycling systems for toys. We can draw inspiration from successful bans on certain plastics, such as BPA-containing plastics in infant milk bottles implemented in Europe and the US. Some brands, like Lego, are already transitioning away from petrochemical-based plastics toward more sustainable alternatives like sugarcane-based plastic, but this shift takes time.

While the demand for plastic toys may surge temporarily due to movie releases, long-term trends indicate a shift. Older children increasingly engage in gaming, which, although generating e-waste, has contributed to a decline in plastic toy popularity. As parents or grandparents, we can make conscious choices by avoiding cheap, easily breakable toys and opting for durable options that encourage long-term creative play. Secondhand toys are another great alternative, and we can also look for toys made from simpler materials that can be recycled or even dolls made from ocean plastics.

By embracing a sustainable approach to toy consumption and encouraging responsible practices in the toy industry, we can mitigate the environmental impact of plastic waste while still providing joy and entertainment for children. Let’s strive for a future where our children can play freely without leaving a heavy burden on our planet.

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