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Why aren’t more products made from recycled plastic?

It’s a common question we’re asked, and it’s one we raised also when we were at the start of our journey to create Happy Planet Toys.

At the start of our journey, our objective was to create highly functional toys, and instead of using new plastic to create them, we’d just use recycled plastic instead. Easy right? Unfortunately not.

The benefits of recycled plastic
There are so many benefits to using recycled plastic. Using recycled plastic reduces the need to produce new plastic which could one day end up in our already overflowing landfills.

Did you know that recycled plastic can also:
  • reduce carbon emissions – using one tonne of recycled plastic instead of new plastic can reduce carbon emissions by one tonne.
  • reduce our reliance on fossil fuels – one tonne of recycled plastic can save 16.3 barrels of oil.

The challenges of using recycled plastic
There are increasingly more and more companies using recycled plastic to create their products – particularly when it comes to packaging or even activewear! We’ve seen companies using anything from 50% all the way to 100% recycled material which is fantastic. We’ve also seen companies say they want to use recycled plastic for their products, but then have to revert to new plastic when the challenges of using recycled materials make it impossible.

There are a few challenges to working with recycled plastic:
  1. A special manufacturing process may be required. Depending on the product being made, recycled plastic may require a different manufacturing process to new plastic. This is especially relevant if the plastic has to be blended with another plastic to be durable enough for manufacturing.
  2. Safety. For companies creating products for children (like us!), or products that will hold food, consumers need to know that the recycled plastic is food-contact safe, and doesn’t contain anything toxic, like BPA.


But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done!
The two challenges above were ones we hit very quickly in our desire to create toys from recycled materials. While it took us some time, we were able to navigate around these to create the end product we wanted.

Safety of our plastic is obviously very important to us, and it’s a big reason why we use recycled milk bottles (otherwise known as recycled HDPE). Milk bottle plastic is classified as food-safe, and so long as it goes through a rigorous cleaning and sterilisation process when it’s re-processed (as our plastic is), it can maintain it’s classification as food-safe, making it safe for our little ones. 

Recycled milk bottles

It’s the use of this type of plastic that led us to the manufacturing challenge. You might know already that we’re super passionate about circular economies, and one of the key principles of circular economies is that the circular principles need to be factored into the design process. Very few toys are made from HDPE, let alone recycled HDPE, so when we first started, we had to go back to basics to understand the properties of our plastic, to then design the toys so they could be manufactured using this type of plastic. Then, through a lot of trial and error, we refine our manufacturing process for each new product to ensure the end result is eco friendly, safe, and lots of fun too!

Tilda the turtle ready to go


So what does this mean for the future of recycled plastic?
While it may not always be possible to use recycled materials to create products, in our opinion, all companies need to be willing to shift the way they do business, and invest the time and money to manufacture and create products in a better way. And as consumers, we need to show that this is an imperative by supporting those companies that do pivot and commit to more sustainable manufacturing. Yes, it may cost a little more to purchase something made from recycled materials, but the environmental benefits make it highly worthwhile.