Supermarket chain Waitrose has just announced it will step up its efforts to reduce single use plastic by no longer selling children’s magazines containing disposable toys.
This is quite a major, and very welcome announcement, as supermarkets initially led the push for “value added” cover mount gifts on children’s comics and magazines in the 1990s, in an effort to combat declining sales in the sector – but which also saw cover price rises to meet the cost.
Although the British comics industry had long offered free gifts on “boost” issues to promote their titles, it was some supermarket chains that demanded they feature on every issue, leading to unwelcome polybags and other plastic detritus on shelves – and creating a barrier to reading before buying.
(Fortunately, title’s such as BEANO and The Phoenix have resisted this push, meaning tge former has been able to keep its cover price relatively low in comparison to potential rivals. Waitrose was one of the first retailers to stock The Phoenix on its shelve).
Waitrose says it was inspired to act after hearing about the campaign by Skye Neville, a 10-year-old girl from Gwynedd, who has launched her own campaign to persuade publishers to end the practice.
Skye’s campaign against plastic toys already has support from politicians, Surfers Against Sewage, Kids Against Plastic and tge Welsh government, who say her efforts could help Wales to become waste free. Earlier this month, Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts also tabled an Early Day Motion before the UK Parliament, in an effort to further highlight Skye’s campaign.
The retailer, which has over 300 stores across the UK, has highlighted that the free plastic toys have a very short lifespan and cannot be easily recycled., and has decided to lead the way in removing them from its supermarket shelves over the next eight weeks and instead calling for magazine publishers to replace plastic toys with more sustainable alternatives.
The ban will not include educational or reusable craft items, such as colouring pencils and pens or collectable models which are intended to be used multiple times.
“I really enjoy reading the magazines, I particularly like Horrible Histories,” says Skye, “but I just want the magazine, I don’t want or need the cheap plastic toys which are either played with for a few minutes or break on the first use and then thrown away. Any ‘gifts’ that the magazines offer should be sustainable and ethical so that we can protect our planet for us and future generations.”
Marija Rompani, Partner & Director of Ethics & Sustainability, Waitrose said: “While we know these magazines are popular with children, some of the unnecessary plastic attached to them has become really excessive.
“Many in the younger generation really care about the planet and are the ones inheriting the problem of plastic pollution. We urge publishers to find alternatives, and other retailers to follow our lead in ending the pointless plastic that comes with children’s magazines.”
In 2019, Waitrose also announced it would stop selling Christmas crackers containing plastic toys from 2020 as part of plans to cut down on single-use plastic. Instead crackers are now filled with toys made from recyclable materials and do not use plastic glitter.
Waitrose is tackling single-use plastic across its entire business and is on track to making all own-label packaging widely recycled, reusable or home compostable by 2023.
The supermarket recently ranked first in Greenpeace’s annual league table, for the second year in a row, which looks at how supermarkets are reducing use of single-use plastics.
Skye has written to many publishers asking them to end the practice, highlighting titles such as Peppa Pig, LOL Dolls, My Little Pony and Mr Men.
“These toys will be made in China, wrapped in plastic, put on a pallet wrapped in more plastic,” she told the BBC earlier this month, “sent across the world, unwrapped, stuck on a magazine and covered in more plastic, and then shipped to houses.
“The carbon footprint is big and you are putting it straight in the bin to pollute the planet.”
Children’s plastics campaign’s have been successful in the past. In 2019, responding to a huge online campaign, Burger King stopped including plastic toys in their children’s meals and McDonald’s gave children options of books with Happy Meals, after a campaign by two sisters.
Kennedy Publishers, publishers of titles such as Barbie, Box of Bing, Mr. Men and others, say they are “working very hard to make their magazines environmentally friendly”, and their magazines are made from paper from sustainable forests, while the packaging is made using recyclable materials. In a letter to Skye, the publisher also said the plastic toys were recyclable in “some areas” and were an important part of the magazine and not intended for single use.
But Skye told the BBC she would like to see the toys removed altogether and all magazines made from paper, unwrapped or wrapped in paper, to reduce excess packaging.
“If you saw it in a toy department you wouldn’t buy it,” said Skye, who keeps the toys in a box to show people how many she is sent, rather than throwing them away.
Recycle to Read Project – One Alternative?
Publishers Redan, Immediate Media and Kennedy are among the children’s publishers which have been working alongside Wastebuster, one of the UK’s leading environmental education companies, on its Recycle to Read programme for the last two years on a sustainable solution for their products.
The programme has been developed by Wastebuster and The Pod in association with EPPIC, a collaborative project designed to find ways to recover plastics that are not currently supported by kerbside recycling collections, and Products of Change in response to the call for action from the publishers.
Products of Change brings together a strong community of brand owners, retailers, content creators, innovators, manufacturing partners and marketing experts who by learning and connecting through the platform can drive sustainable change within their respective businesses while maintaining a commercial footing.
“The programme will build a new recycling infrastructure for hard to recycle plastic toys, collectively funded by the industry, and will promote waste reduction, reuse and recycling with a schools and consumer-facing environmental education campaign, while rewarding participating schools and communities with books and reading materials to improve children’s literacy,” founder Katy Newnham explained, as part of a response to the Waitrose announcement.
“In alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Recycle to Read is a collective impact initiative between industry, government, and consumers to promote responsible consumption and production. That will unlock considerable social, economic, and environmental benefits for the societies in which it operates.
“The long-term aim of the programme is to provide research to industry to support the transition to more sustainable product design and circularity in the UK, with a view to global replication.”
After Waitrose announced it would no longer sell children’s magazines containing disposable toys, Redan, Immediate Media and Kennedy highlighted the steps they are taking to become more sustainable
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With thanks to Sim Leech
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.