Plastic REPLAY: A new life to our toys
Toys touch upon everyone’s hearts. We’ve all been children and somehow remain so, even if we also happen to be parents or even grandparents. Play is a fundamental part of life, to be nurtured indefinitely, and toys can be incredible tools for traveling into the imaginal realms, expanding boundaries of possibility, and turning a little street corner into the most magical landscape of adventure.
Yet, as daily life rushes on exponential speed, a par with cravings for instant gratification and short-lasted bang-sensations fueled by consumer culture, play takes its toll, while ever-more-complex toys pile up in rooms where kids are ever more confined to.
At Zero Waste Lab, we are a team of women, mostly mothers, observing a general decrease on quality of toys with no repair options, an abundance of add-on toy gifts to consumer products, no recycling options at their end of lifecycle, and ever more play-stuff designing coast lines and riverbeds. No one was doing anything about this. So, we stepped in and started designing an idea for a pilot project in Portugal.
Once the intention was out there, we found that Precious Plastic Portugal had won a design award for recycling old toys into new toys, using Precious Plastic machines that they developed themselves — a foundational partnership was established and the concept for REPLAY was co-created. Funding was guaranteed by Novo Banco, through their initiative “Contas com gestos que contam” that translates into “accounts with gestures that count”.
REPLAY is a pilot project aiming to develop the first network for collecting and sorting toys at the end of their lifecycle in Portugal and transforming them into new toys and other useful objects. We are testing the implementation of a toy recycling circuit in collaboration with the municipalities of Porto, Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Cascais, Lisboa and Évora. These cities were chosen for being the ones with operational Precious Plastic Labs, offering an opportunity to showcase the potential of these technologies as small recycling units serving local needs, with great creative agility. New towns now joined this circuit through civic mobilization.
Right now, families are being invited to select broken or useless toys at home, separate them into their different materials – plastic, metal, rubber, card, electronic circuits, batteries, etc – and do the math for totals of materials. With this dedication, we’ll be able to collect inexistent data regarding the complexity of materials composing toys, as well as understand how much of it can be effectively recycled, and which constructs are nearly impossible to take apart – hence influence the practice of better eco-design.
To decide which new toys to produce, we launched a contest, challenging design students to develop concepts for a new toy that would be feasible to develop with Precious Plastic technology, while also promoting social skills and constructive engagement. Voting is now underway.
The rest of the plastic will be used to create boxes to be placed at playgrounds, where kids and families naturally gather. These boxes aim to promote the exchange of toys in good conditions at the neighborhood level, serving as a sort of library of toys, incentivizing sharing among children, as well as greater community cohesion.
Yet this project expands way beyond recycling, serving as a fundamental acupuncture point to discuss deeper issues regarding the quality of toys and the quality of play. Part of the project consist of a series of talks to raise public and political discussion around critical issues like:
_ Toys toxicity: toys being the product category with more banned chemicals and greater consumer complaints in recent years in the EU. What do we know and how can we mobilize against this?
- Imports and quality control: most toys with banned chemicals are coming from China, and there’s a critical permissive factor: the CE logo for European Compliance is identical to CE logo from China Export. How can this be allowed and what mechanisms are in place to oversee or overcome this?
- Marketing targeting children: How far is too much? The food industry and supermarkets keep gifting toys to bind them to their brands, mostly with little retention of interest, fast cast aside and joining a waste stream, or water stream.
- Eco-design: A concept much talked about yet barely put into practice. How can brands be made accountable for the entire lifecycle of their products, truly fueling a revolution in eco-design, so all product categories are properly designed to be repaired and recycled, toys included?
A par from these critical touchpoints, this project is also testing and enabling transversal societal collaboration on a very interesting scale, truly nurturing the concept of complementarity. We now have over 100 partners and growing. Impact House is such a partner, kindly hosting the centralization of collected toys in Lisbon, as well as weekly sessions with volunteers to dismantle toys that have not yet been separated by material. We are so grateful!
A workgroup is also being set up to gather data on toys in Portugal, so we may, as a next step, evaluate the possibility of implementing a system of Extended Producer Responsibility, which would guarantee the economic sustainability of a permanent circuit. This economic study should follow up this pilot project.
This journey through the lenses of toys is a fantastic opportunity for better understanding the complexity of materials, the critical touchpoint of eco-design to guarantee repairability and recyclability, inform our consumer choices. One step further, it aims to test new systems and circuits, closing existing gaps, while building on the strengths of existing players, showcasing the complementarity between independent creatives and industrial capabilities, and how all of us, as a society, can come together to try to solve persisting issues, manifesting “what if’s” into reality. It will only work if we converge our hearts, minds, and efforts.
Got any toys at home? Know anyone who does? Got a pair of willing hands to dismantle toys? Are you interested in volunteering with the Precious Plastic machines to create new toys? Got any ideas to share? Watch our video with English subtitles and drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you replied yes to any of the questions above. Looking forward to hearing from you soon! As they say, team work makes the dream work!
Impact House is one of REPLAY collection points in Portugal. Pass by and drop off your toys to contribute to this amazing project.