Mattel Will Now Recycle Your Old Barbies, Mega Bloks, and Matchbox Cars

Its PlayBack program takes old toys and turns them into new ones.

toy cars

Getty Images / Zoltan Matuska

If you have old Barbie dolls, Matchbox cars, or Mega Bloks gathering dust in a corner of your home, now might be the time to pack them up and ship them to Mattel, the company that made them. Mattel launched a new takeback program that promises to recycle its toys that are beyond donation or repair and to use those materials to produce new ones. 

Participants can print a free, prepaid shipping label online, pack their items into a box (it doesn't have to be the original packaging), and send it to Mattel. Toys do not need to be cleaned before shipping, but all batteries should be removed. There is no cost to participate.

Once received, the company says it will "recover the materials and reuse them as recycled content in new toys. For materials that cannot be repurposed as recycled content into new toys, Mattel PlayBack will either downcycle those materials into other plastic products or convert them from waste to energy."

When asked if it has a sense of what percentage of toys will be recycled versus downcycled or discarded, a Mattel spokesperson tells Treehugger it's too early to know: "The intent of the Mattel PlayBack program is to turn materials from the toys we take back into recycled materials for new toys whenever possible. Since we just announced the program, we don’t have a number to share yet on what percentage of materials will be used for future toys."

As for the future of those downcycled toys, the spokesperson says: "Materials that can’t be used for future toys will be downcycled to make other plastic products that could range from products you see around the house to park benches."

The program, which is called PlayBack, is available in the United States and Canada, and similar versions are launching in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Mattel is only taking back its own toys and does not accept those made by other companies. This is because "we know what materials go into our products and how best to reuse them in new Mattel toys."

Recycling should be a last resort for toys that cannot be passed on or donated to other families. But it's inevitable that those toys will eventually reach a point where they cannot be played with anymore, and that's where recycling is useful. The company says: "By working together to reclaim and recycle materials, we can make sure the toys of the past don’t become the waste challenges of tomorrow."

This takeback program fits into Mattel's broader goal of embracing a circular business model. It wants to move toward "a waste-free future" for toys, games, and packaging, and to implement better eco-friendly design and resource efficiency. Its goal is to achieve 100% recycled, recyclable, or bio-based plastic materials across all products and packaging by 2030.