I’ve had a blog idea kicking around the back of my head for over a year now, and Mattel just killed it.
Being responsible with our environment is an important topic to me. It’s more than a topic, it’s a way of thinking and a way of living. My family and I live on a small 5 acre farm. We raise our own chickens (we have 17 egg layers, and generally raise about 60 for meat per year), pigs, and dairy goats. We actively recycle as much as we possibly can. Where we live you have to pay extra for that, so we do what we can on our own. The animals help with that. There’s a lot of food stuff that can go to the chickens or, especially, the pigs rather than into the trash. Fortunately, we have a recycling facility in town to which we take our paper products, glass, cans and plastics. Two years ago our trash can was full to overflowing each week when we put it out. Now, there’s barely anything in it. It’s fantastic.
So, where does Mattel come in?
Over the past few years Mattel (and, to be fair, other companies as well) have been getting very elaborate with their packaging, especially with convention exclusives. But, even their standard retail products as well. And, frankly, it’s been frustrating me because it’s just a huge waste. It’s a waste of resources on their part, and it’s a waste on the consumer end as most of that packaging then ends up in landfills. I remember getting action figures as a kid, whether it was Kenner’s Star Wars or Super Powers or whatever. The packaging was a small backing board, and a plastic blister containing a loose figure. No plastic backer vacuu-formed to the shape of the figure. No twist ties holding the figure in plastic (or, in Mattel’s case, a figure-warping action pose). It was all pretty minimalistic. And, I miss it.
This has been bugging me for a while. Backer cards started getting ridiculously huge in proportion to the figure it held. The amount of plastic being used seemed to be more than the amount of plastic used in the figure itself! The Comic Con exclusive packaging has been raising my ire for several years now, and then I saw the trend at retail start to move towards excessive packaging, too. The 4" figures from James Cameron’s Avatar had packaging that was so disproportionate to the product being offered that it was ludicrous.
And I thought, enough was enough.
I wanted to write this grand exposé on how much waste was being generated, how much cost was going into excessive packaging that was then passed along to the consumer, and how much extra man-hours and company resources was spent in the creation of all of this. The problem was, I didn’t have the facts, the numbers or the resources to find them out.
But, boy, did I want to write it. I strongly believe that things need to change in this area. Not just at Mattel, but at at great many companies. Just using the action figure category, we all know that prices have gone out of control over the past couple years. In Q&A’s with Mattel we are constantly being told that this or that didn’t "cost out". If Mattel and others would reduce the amount of packaging being used it would benefit everyone, except maybe the "mint-on-card" crowd who is the only real beneficiary of elaborate packaging. I realize that there may be marketing reasons for the packaging to be as it has become. I do. But, less is more. Talented graphic designers can still create very attractive and eye-catching packaging with less. Smaller card backs could result in more peg space at retail which could result in higher visability for a given line possibly resulting in higher revenue.
So, how did Mattel sort of kill my grand, un-realized plans?
This week Mattel issued a press release entitled, "Mattel Plays Responsibly with "Design it, Make it, Live it" Sustainability Strategy" in which they say:
Mattel’s sustainability strategy is focused on helping the company minimize its footprint throughout the value chain and across the organization, and emphasizes the importance of personal commitment in business as well as everyday practices and processes. First, by "designing it" with the end in mind, Mattel is focused on exploring opportunities for sustainability in the design of products and packaging; "making it" with eco-efficiencies that allows the company to identify opportunities to gain efficiencies and reduce environmental impacts through the manufacturing and distribution of its products; and by "living it" with the personal commitment that the company is fostering a culture of sustainability, which inspires employee-led grassroots initiatives
That’s some encouraging rhetoric there. It shows that someone at Mattel is at least thinking of these issues (or, the cynic in me says they at least want consumers to think they are). It’s a start. However, when you read on to where they talk about making packaging changes the only issue they address is twist-ties. Yes, twist-ties.
Packaging Improvements: In an effort to reduce packaging materials, Mattel has reduced wire/twist ties by more than 90 percent across the company’s product lines. In addition, Mattel recently completed a life cycle assessment of packaging across multiple product lines to identify impacts and opportunities for future improvements.
(you can read the full press release here)
Again, it’s a start…and, frankly, a welcome one. I hate twist-ties with a passion. So, to see them reduced by 90% is great. But, there’s a lot more that can be done to reduce the amount of resources that go into something like packaging that, in most cases, just ends up in the trash.
The whole concept of product and packaging waste can be an over-whelming one. Next time you are in a McDonalds just look at the amount of trash being generated in the 20 minutes or so you are in the restaurant and then think about how much is generated all day, at every McDonalds around the world. Think about if McDonalds would put recycle bins in their restaurants, how much could potentially be kept out of landfills. It’s staggering.
We need to be doing everything we can on both the corporate and individual levels.