Toy makers join movement away from plastics

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A woman puts an empty capsule into a capsule collection box installed near the capsule toy vending machines at the Gashapon Bandai Official Shop “Tokyo Solamachi” in Sumida Ward, Tokyo.

The version of its Happy Meal that McDonald’s Japan started selling on May 20 included a ready-to-assemble dinosaur toy to go with the hamburger and other items in the set. But what was different this time was that the toy, and box the set came in, was made completely of paper.

The global movement away from plastics has expanded into children’s toys. Responding to tougher regulations aimed at reducing the use of plastic, more and more companies are taking action by recycling plastic products or switching to paper and other raw materials.

These measures are also expected to have the added effect of educating children to become more conscious of the environment.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The dinosaur toy included in McDonald’s Happy Meal is made completely from paper, as well as the package it comes in.

McDonald’s Japan plans to make all of its Happy Meal toys from renewable materials by the end of 2025. The company, which sells about 100 million Happy Meal sets annually, estimates that by 2026, it will cut its use of fossil fuel-based plastics by 90%, or about 4,000 tons, from the amount in 2018.

“While sticking to our criteria that they be fun to play with, we will aim to produce products that are safe and eco-friendly,” a McDonald’s Japan spokesperson said.

Starting last year, major U.S. toy maker Mattel, most known for its Barbie doll collection, has been selling Barbies in Japan, the United States and elsewhere made from plastic waste recovered from the ocean.

“Compared with the total amount of plastics used, the reduction for toys may not have a large impact, but it is greatly significant in that it provides a starting point for children who will inherit the future to consider the environment,” said a public relations official at Mattel’s Japanese subsidiary.

Toy maker Bandai Co. has since September last year been collecting the empty plastic capsules from its capsule toy vending machines, which it grinds up and reuses as the raw material for new capsules. Capsule collection boxes have been installed in nine locations around the country, mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

At the Gashapon Bandai Official Shop “Tokyo Solamachi,” a capsule toy shop next to Tokyo Skytree in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, in late May, a 23-year-old Yokohama woman put the empty capsule into a collection box after taking the toy out of it.

“I definitely want to cooperate pitch in if the discarded capsules are recycled into new ones,” she said.

Since last fiscal year, the Bandai Namco Group has been recycling the frame that holds the pieces for the plastic model kits of the popular Gundam anime series. The frames are melted down in a high-temperture chemical process to return to a raw state and used to make new products. These are given away at events and other occasions.

Another toy maker, Tomy Co., added “Eco Rails” to its mainstay Plarail (a combination of plastic and railroad) toy railway series. Eco Rails contain more than 50% recycled materials, and while the rails for regular Plarail are blue, those for the Eco Rails are green to emphasize consideration for the environment.