The Red Flag over Playmobil’s Castle

My daughter loves Playmobil.  She spends hours constructing and then animating complex scenes and she’s a master at combining parts from different sets to create new structures that aren’t in the well-thumbed Playmobil catalogue.  Except for the unpleasantness of stepping on a rogue piece in the dark or sifting through the dust of the vacuum cleaner bag to recover some special plastic bit, I quite like the stuff myself.  It’s the sort of toy I wish I had when I was a kid.

However, I must admit I’m disappointed by the company’s apparent inattention to sustainability.

A set my daughter bought was missing a piece – a rare occurrence – so I ordered a replacement part through the company’s website.   Here’s what I received in the mail a couple of weeks later:

The piece

The packaging

The piece itself is about 3 x 2 x 2 cm!  You could fit  hundreds of them in that box!  (At least the box was not also filled with those hard-to-recycle (and annoyingly clingy) styrofoam chips.)

This experience prompted me to go to Playmobil’s website to find out where they stand on sustainable packaging.  Much to my chagrin, I was unable to find any information about any aspect of sustainability at Playmobil and its maker, Geobra Brandstätter gmbH.

I went out to the shed to check the original packaging; a few boxes have Der Grüne Punkt, indicating the company participates in the Green Dot program in Germany, but there is no other mark to indicate recycled content or recyclability of the packaging.

There are so many resources out there now to support manufacturers in adopting sustainable packaging materials and systems, there really is no excuse for a consumer products manufacturer to ignore this aspect of corporate responsibility.  For example, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition is an industry working group that offers courses, briefs, design guidelines and other resources for sustainable packaging.  The Sustainable Packaging Alliance provides tools and delivers workshops and events.  Or check out the annual Sustainable Packaging Forum, coming up in September in Texas.

Sustainable packaging minimizes material waste, both in manufacturing and end-of-use disposal.  It also reduces energy and emissions associated with transportation from factory to distribution centre to retail store.  And, of course, it saves money in material costs, transportation, and warehousing.

Playmobil red flagAny way you look at it, the clearly unsustainable packaging used to send me this replacement part is a red flag.  It shows that Playmobil either isn’t doing anything about sustainable packaging or, if it is, the company has overlooked certain customer transactions that involve packaging.

That there is no publicly available information about Playmobil’s corporate responsibility programs, too, is a red flag.  Does it mean that Playmobil and Geobra are doing nothing about sustainability?  Or does it mean, simply, they aren’t communicating what they’re doing?  Either way, it’s leaving me and every other interested consumer in the dark.  And that’s no way to build confidence and trust.

Click here to access Playmobil’s Facts and Figures page (over 2 billion figures manufactured to date!)

Image of Playmobil part from this eBay listing.

    • tania
    • January 15th, 2012

    I just started looking at this myself. In addressing with a class I teach the importance of mission and vision statements-I decided to put my money where my mouth is after doing a project with my daughter on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (stunned to find out 50% of our oceans are littered with tens of millions of tons of plastic trash and that only 5% of our plastic is recovered/recycled). I found Playmobil’s mission statement (all the “WE”s) a little self-serving and narcissistic. And in a time were CSR is so important – their lack of attention to it demonstrates an ego that can only be inflated further by their ever increasing sales. I for one have decided we will go the Ebay route-by used when we can. This way we re-use the plastic product and we don’t further contribute to Playmobil’s sales. We will also be selling the kits no longer use the same way. Thankfully all of our kits are intact-no missing parts — Great article-thank you for proving my concern.

    A new “sustainable” mom

    • Thanks for your comment, Tania. This article, http://www.plasticseurope.org/information-centre/news/latest-news/playmobil-a-timeless-plastics-success-story.aspx, just published yesterday, refers to Playmobil’s “commitment to safety and sustainability”, but there’s still no sustainability information on Playmobil’s website! I suspect they’re doing something, but just not communicating it very well…
      They are clearly thinking about inter-generational durability, and it’s not a big step from there to consider key sustainability issues, like water and air emissions, waste reduction, and so on. I look forward to when we, as consumers, can confirm this more easily.
      Regards,
      Celesa

  1. August 20th, 2012

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