Environment | “Toy recycling is key to educating children”: Wastebuster’s call to the industry

Published on: 26th January 2021

An underwater photographer turned campaigner, conservationist, and educator on the environmental impact of climate change and pollution on the world’s oceans, Katy Newnham is about to embark on her latest venture to help change the course of history.

Last week, Wastebuster launched its Recycle to Read and Toy Take Back scheme, an initiative that has called on the toy industry to support in the efforts to find better and more sustainable methods of keeping the hard to recycle toy plastics out of landfills and out of the natural ecosystem.

Landing initially as a reward system for schools, the programme aims to engage consumers to recycle toys in selected schools and retailers across the country, and to reward those participating schools and communities with books and reading resources for children.

With toy and publishing firms already signed up to the initiative, Newnham is doubling down on her appeal to an industry to help educate children no environmental issues and taking a lead in the fight for a better, sustainable future.

Here, catches up with Katy Newnham, founder of Wastebuster and the Recycle to Read programme, to learn more about it all.

Hi Katy, thanks for chatting with us. To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role with Wastebuster. What is the Wastebuster mission?

I began my career as a commercial underwater photographer but having witnessed the impact of climate change and pollution on the oceans’ ecosystems, I moved into conservation and education. In 2006 I created Wastebuster, becoming the founder and CEO of the not-for-profit environmental education company.

With partners and supporters that have ranged from UN Environment to Pinewood Film Studios and Google, Wastebuster now supports over 20,000 schools, and 30,000 teachers worldwide. Specialising in delivering national and international, cross-sector education and awareness campaigns, designed to promote responsible consumption in primary aged school children.

In 2019, Wastebuster acquired The Pod, an education platform for schools and together they have become one of the largest providers of free education for sustainable development, to children all over the world. Our goal is to harness the power of entertainment to inspire social change.

Can you give us a bit of an overview of the campaigns and initiatives you guys have led and the kind of partners you have worked with?

We work with partners ranging from international corporates, local authorities, NGO’s, Governments and the UN to deliver education and awareness programmes that support development of the circular economy, in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Wastebuster has worked with WRAP since 2008, with the Wastebuster characters fronting the Recycle now Schools programme. For our 2012 Sport into Schools campaign, Wastebuster worked with the 2012 Olympic Committee, LOCOG, to use the increased interest in sport to initiate a UK wide textile recycling campaign that exchanged unwanted textiles for thousands of UK under resourced schools, for new sports equipment.

More recently Wastebuster have delivered circular economy education and school engagement programmes in South Africa and the Middle East, to support the development of new recycling infrastructure for hard to recycle plastics. This led Wastebuster to be instrumental in the formation of EPPIC (Extended Plastics Partnership for Innovation in Circularity) alongside DOW, Marks and Spencer and Ecosurety.

EPPIC is a new nationwide initiative that aims to create the infrastructure and mechanisms for the collection and recycling of ‘hard to recycle’ flexible and hard plastics. By bringing together a critical mass of key stakeholders we can deliver a functioning and profitable recycling system that benefits retailers and brand owners, publishers, recyclers, citizens and most importantly, the environment.

Currently, Wastebuster is leading the workstream on hard to recycle toy plastics, which has led to the formation of the Recycle to Read campaign, in association with Products of Change.

“We feel that toy recycling, is a key to educating children in the importance of recycling and living a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Can you talk us through the latest initiative – the Recycle to Read campaign and the Toy Take Back scheme? Who is this campaign targeting and how?

For the Recycle to Read Campaign, Wastebuster is working with EPPIC and Products of Change to bring together cross-sector stakeholders (toy companies, brand, owners, publishers, government) to develop an efficient, environmental, and sustainable infrastructure for recycling plastic toys, initially in the UK.

Initially, the programme will engage consumers to recycle toys (including electricals and textiles) in selected schools and retailers, and to reward participating schools and communities with books and reading resources to improve children’s literacy.

The Recycle to Read toy recycling programme unlocks the value of collaborative advantage. It provides an industry-wide infrastructure solution for recycling all plastic toys that consumers can engage with easily, whilst unlocking considerable social, economic and environmental benefits for the communities in which it operates.

The programme also provides research and industry insight into toy design for recyclability to support the move towards a more circular future for toy production.

Recycle to Read is more than just a recycling campaign and environmental educational programme, it is a collective impact programme and dynamic research project that provides a solution to a complex issue, through multi-stakeholder collaboration including industry, government, and consumers.

How are you guys now tapping directly into the children’s sector? And why is this such an important sector to tap into?

We feel that toy recycling, is a key to educating children in the importance of recycling and living a more sustainable lifestyle. The Recycle to Read junior board members (made up of six to 11-year-olds) made it very clear to us that they have a unique and emotional bond with their toys and understanding how they can help their toys to be reused or recycled when they are no longer wanted is a huge step in creating positive messaging around the concept of recycling.

Helena Stopher at Products of Change and the Children’s Magazine Forum have been instrumental in introducing us to the children’s sector and so far it’s been hugely rewarding working with such a positive and forward thinking industry.

Why is now the right time for toy companies to be joining this campaign? Why are they so integral to the initiative?

There is no time like now to change the future of the toy industry.

Many companies are already taking this issue seriously, especially in terms of packaging and design. Those who become members of the R2R campaign will be:

  • Helping to ensure the toy industry has a sustainable future and recycling solution
  • Proactively leading change ahead of government legislation
  • Supporting and contributing to new and better intelligence on the recyclability of toys and product design
  • Demonstrating responsibility for their products in the market giving assurance to their consumers
  • Able to utilise resources for the promotion of responsible consumption to your consumers

Acting as a responsible business sector is no longer a ‘nice to have’. It is a commercial necessity and environmental imperative. We can turn the dial for a whole generation, to promote and enable responsible consumption and production.

Let’s make this a good news story for industry, for children and for the planet. Let’s work together to do that.

The Recycle to Read campaign is financed purely by members fees and we are engaging with all brands, retailers, manufacturers, and publishers who market to children, to get behind this scheme in order to create a sustainable future for their businesses.

The programme is run on a “not for profit” basis and all members will have the opportunity to vote on how any potential profit from the value of recycled material is spent – be that more school resources, scaling up the infrastructure or reducing member fees.

What sort of reception have you had to it so far?

The sector is more than ready for this and we have had nothing but support so far.

Over 40 companies and 70 local authorities took part in a special round table webinar in November, to find out more about the campaign and we are delighted that Immediate Media and Smart Games have become founder members and are looking forward to be announcing a host of other members in the New Year.

What are you setting out to achieve, what is the mission statement for the Recycle to Read campaign and why is it more important than ever that the toy industry sits up and takes part?

Our goals are as follows:

  • To provide a new, robust, and economical infrastructure for the collection and recycling of toys, small WEEE and textiles in the UK including schools, retailers, household waste and recycling sites, businesses, community groups and more.
  • To engage, educate and encourage families to reuse and recycle more.
  • To supply industry with the research and science to create more sustainable products.
  • To create greater circularity within the UK toy industry, in a manner that can be replicated in other territories

We are working as a non-profit organisation to help the toy industry to come together to create a solution to its’ sustainability problem and help us to educate children in the importance of recycling. This is not going to happen overnight, we have a five year plan to get the UK to the point where toy recycling can be carried out via local household waste and recycling centres.

It’s a big goal and we can only achieve it if we all work together, for the common good.

How can toy companies get involved in the programme?

Visit our website and sign up to the Webinar on 18th February, where you will be able to find out all you need about the campaign. If you don’t want to wait until then you can contact any of the members of R2R leadership team to discuss the programme in more detail – contact details are also on the website.

We will be working hard to get members fully registered by the end of February, so that we can launch phase one of the Recycle to Read Toy and Tech Take Backs in Schools in the summer term.

We can’t wait to get started!


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