“We're trying to sell toys, but we're also trying to genuinely make the world a better place and hopefully preserve some of the resources that this world has left to offer our kids,” said Hasbro’s Ben Kuchler, Director of Product and Package Sustainability. Kuchler and Jacquie Patterson, Senior Manager of Package Engineering on the Sustainability Team, presented at Sustainability in Packaging US this week, and talked about the company’s broad sustainability actions over the past decade, as well as their path for the future.
Hasbro, creator of iconic toys and games such as Nerf, My Little Pony, Transformers, Play-Doh, Monopoly, Baby Alive, and Power Rangers, has also partnered with brands such as Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars. Kuchler said that in 2018, Hasbro became the first toy company to offer a recycling program for US customers. And through a partnership with TerraCycle, Hasbro recycles the “retired” toys back into things like playground equipment, park benches, and flowerpots. The program was expanded to France, Germany, Brazil, and Canada in 2019, the UK in 2020, and “a bunch of other countries are being planned for the years ahead,” said Kuchler.
According to Patterson, Hasbro started their sustainability journey over a decade ago by eliminating tissue paper in shipping cartons, and the polybags used to contain instruction sheets. In 2010, the wire ties that hold toys in place in the packaging were substituted with paper ties. In 2013, PVC in the packaging was replaced with PET, which by 2016 included 40% recycled content. In 2018 Hasbro began switching to bioPET. Said Patterson, “Our journey was working toward making continual improvements to our materials and improving our plastic materials.”
The company has also long been working to reduce packaging material and waste in e-commerce packaging and designing packaging specifically for the e-commerce channel. In 2017 Hasbro launched recycle labeling on packaging to help inform North American consumers on how to recycle the product packaging.
Said Kuchler, “Toys have been packaged in PET blisters, or PVC blisters for 50 years now. And so, we created a new filter for ourselves and said, wherever we don't physically require plastic in our packaging to deliver it safely to the consumer, whatever that product experience might be, we're trying to eliminate it and phase it out.” To that end, the company is focusing on eliminating poly bags, elastic bands, elastic fasteners, shrink wrap, PET window sheets or blisters. (This initiative is focused on primary packaging, but there are some secondary/tertiary packaging elements that are being focused on as well.)
And Kuchler said Hasbro hopes to provide “a sense of leadership within the packaging industry, or at least within the toy packaging industry, to encourage our partners and our competitors to look and see if they can do better as well.”
NERF Ultra Dorado: This item had a new dart that the company wanted to showcase. The original packaging displayed the new dart in a blister in the top right corner. But going forward, said Patterson, “what the team is doing is providing a graphic rendering of what that dart looks like enlarged a little bit, to be able to really showcase that…rather than physically showing the product.” The remaining darts which would normally be packaged in a poly bag are now wrapped in tissue paper and located inside the closed portion of the box to eliminate the poly bag.
NERF Alpha Strike: With this product Patterson said they were wanting to eliminate the plastic fasteners. The NERF gun is put in a sleeve package that eliminates the need for any fasteners at all, by ‘trapping’ the blaster in certain locations to be able to hold it into the packing.
My Little Pony: This packaging, said Patterson, tends to be big blister cards with an outer blister and a support blister behind. Hasbro chose to use photography to highlight the contents, as well as use some paperboard straps to graphically show some accessory pieces while also holding the product in place.
Baby Alive: This line has a lot of large baby dolls that come with a variety of accessories. Instead of support blisters, the middle of the package contains a new plastic-free foil package, with strategic dye cuts to be able to showcase some accessories inside. Paper ties also showcase some of the pieces. Patterson said the added challenge for Baby Alive and some other brands in Hasbro is that some regions around the world require packages for products like this to be more enclosed for their open-air markets, as well as needing to deliver an enclosed package for e-commerce because of the item being at a lower age grade. (For Amazon products that are age graded at three and under, the package must be enclosed.) Hasbro created an enclosed version that solves for both of regional and e-commerce issues by using the same open package, but with a sleeve over it that at retail the consumer can lift and still see what the product is, but the sleeve portrays an image of the product, enabling the consumer to see what is inside. Added Kuchler, “Both through consumer testing and then also a lot of other evaluation, we've definitely realized the value of using photography and/or the ability to use photo realistic imagery to convey play pattern.”
Mr. Potato Head: This product, which has come in a package with both outer and inner support blisters, is launching later this year in an enclosed box package.
Hasbro is quietly launching two new fully sustainable product offerings in plastic-free packages. The first is a Mr. Potato Head made with plant-based plastic instead of plastic from fossil fuels. Said Kuchler, “Mr. Potato Head Goes Green is the same five-inch toy that everybody knows and loves. But this farmer is made with plant-based plastic derived from sugar cane, which is a renewable raw material.” The packaging is plastic free and also uses FSC-certified paper and supports responsible forestry.
Monopoly Go Green launched at Walmart in December 2020 and is the first fully sustainable board game. The package, game board, game guide, money cards, and all paper content is made from 100% recycled paper. The greenhouses and the dice are made of FSC-certified wood from well-managed forests, and the tokens - which are normally in die-cast zinc material - are made with plant-based plastic derived from sugar cane. And finally, the gameplay is designed to educate players to be eco-conscious by rewarding them and encouraging them to ‘green up or clean up’ their properties.
Said Kuchler, “The learnings from this exercise are paving the way, not only for Monopoly, but really the way that we package all of our games in the future. This is a huge milestone for us and it's honestly just a tiny baby step in the beginning of our product sustainability journey.”