PlayBack: Mattel launches toy recycling scheme

Image: Mattel

Called PlayBack, the scheme is available in markets including the UK and US. Consumers will be able to return used Barbie, Matchbox and MEGA toys at this point, with other Mattel brands set to be added in the future.

Mattel is using a free postal service to collect the toys. Consumers will be encouraged to visit the Playback website to print a free postage label. Once the toys reach Mattel, they will be sorted and separated by material before recycling, Components that cannot be recycled to produce new toy components will be either downcycled – turned into different products which require lower-grade input – or used in energy from waste (EfW) facilities.

Mattel’s chief operating officer said the firm’s toys are “made to last and be passed on from generation to generation”, but that more must be done to create a truly circular economy for toys.

The firm is notably working to ensure that all plastic products and packaging are 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based by 2030. PlayBack contributes to both the recycled content and the recyclable product parts of this vision.

“The Mattel PlayBack programme helps parents and caregivers ensure that materials stay in play, and out of landfills, with the aim to repurpose these materials as recycled content in new toys,” Mattel’s global head of sustainability Pamela Gill-Alabaster said. “It is one important step we’re taking to address the growing global waste challenge.” 

The announcement of PlayBack comes shortly after Mattel outlined plans for reaching its overarching 2030 materials goal through its Matchbox brand, which makes die-cast cars. The plans made national headlines, with Mattel partnering with Tesla to deliver a toy electric vehicle (EV) made using 99% recycled content and certified as carbon neutral.


Amid increasing pressure from investors and consumers, several of the world’s largest toy brands have updated their ambitions on plastics in recent years.

2019 saw Hasbro, which makes toys including Transformers and Mr Potato Head, committing to phase out virtually all plastic from product packaging for new products by the end of 2022. Plastic components set to be ditched include polybags, shrink wrap, plastic bags and window sheets.

Hasbro then built on that pledge with the launch of a UK-wide toy take-back and recycling scheme, operated as part of a partnership with TerraCycle.

Similarly, Lego is now working in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to scale up reuse and recycling services while making products and packaging more sustainable in tandem.

The so-called ‘war on plastics’ has also affected the market for toys given with children’s meals at restaurants. Burger King stopped offering plastic toys with King Junior meals in 2019, following a successful take-back and recycling scheme. It is now striving to phase out all remaining single-use plastic. Similarly, McDonald’s UK & Ireland is now giving customers plastic-free toys and books with Happy meals.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie