By Bridget Washburn
Any climate-concerned parent of young children should be thrilled that toy manufacturer Matel recently announced its intent to collect, reuse and recycle certain brands of popular products. Through a new program called Mattel PlayBack, customers may download a free shipping label to send Barbie, Matchbox and MEGA brand toys back to the company, where plastic and other materials will be recovered and reused.
Along with its eco-friendly recycling program came forward-thinking changes to Matel’s product packaging. Matchbox will swap out the clear form-plastic for a simple cardboard box to hold its cars. Boxes will be composed of Forest Stewardship Council certified materials, indicating their environmental sustainability.
Matel joins a growing corporate movement to recycle or eliminate plastic and support the global effort to tackle climate change. Since 99% of plastic ingredients are sourced from climate-warming fossil fuels, a strong link exists between fossil fuel extraction, the plastic industry, and climate change. A boom in hydraulic fracturing – which withdraws deep reserves of oil and natural gas – has generated large quantities of a byproduct called ethane, a key ingredient in plastic. The increased availability and low cost of ethane has spurred plastics production in the US and beyond.
Nature Climate Change reports that global plastics production has quadrupled over the last four decades. At this rate, plastic-related emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year by 2030— equivalent to emissions released by over 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants. By 2050, these emissions could potentially grow to make up 15% of the global carbon budget.
Clearly, the plastics industry could continue its expansion. A limiting factor is the market-driven change spurred by consumers who are increasingly conscious about how their purchases impact the planet. The National Retail Federation in collaboration with IBM released a new study on global consumer trends which found that today’s shoppers value brand purpose over cost and convenience. Of the 19,000 consumers polled, one-third had swapped out favorite brands for brands they viewed as more sustainable, transparent, and aligned with their core values. The majority were willing to pay considerably more for sustainable, recycled or eco-friendly goods, with over half willing to change purchasing habits to reduce environmental harm.
Consumers hold the power of the pocketbook, and each purchase made can help sway manufacturers toward adopting climate-friendly practices. Recycling programs like Matel’s, adoption of renewable energy in production, and demand-management strategies have the potential to keep 2050 emissions comparable to 2015 levels. Attaining this goal requires that businesses adopt eco-friendly materials and techniques that support a healthy bottom line – and a healthier planet Earth.