Waitrose bans disposable plastic toys given away with children’s comics and magazines

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.

The good old days – Cracker issue 1 with Free paper Gift

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.”

Check out Skye Neville’s “Ban plastic toys on comics and magazines” campaign here on Change.org

Products of Change: Children’s magazine publishers working on sustainable solutions 

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

Recycle to Read

Read Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP Liz Saville Roberts Early Day Motion currently seeking MP support


BBC News (Wales), 13th March 2021: Plastic pollution: Fairbourne child’s bid to ban toys in magazines

BBC News, 23rd March 2021: Waitrose ditches magazines with disposable plastic toys


LEGO makes prototype bricks from recycled plastic 
6th July 2021

New LEGO, new prototype, which uses PET plastic from discarded bottles, is the first brick made from a recycled material to meet the company’s strict quality and safety requirements

With thanks to Sim Leech

Categories: British Comics, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Licensing, Merchandise, Other Worlds

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2 replies

  1. If a mag can’t sell on the strength of its content, it has no business being on the shelves. They could learn from Beano, which only has cover mounts on 1 out of 50 issues a year (the Christmas issue). Beano lets the comic strips sell the mag, not a stupid toy of the sort you’d find in Poundland.

    • While I’m averse to free plastic gifts and poly bagging of comics, I do appreciate that reshaping the business of bring titles aimed at children will not happen overnight. As I mentioned in the story, the push for free gifts on every issue came from outside publishing itself, back in the 1990s. It was seen as a means to reverse declining sales of comics even then. However, it also meant cover price rises to reflect the cost of the cover mounts. The introduction of regular cover mounts of course benefits the retailer – a higher cover price per unit means you have to sell less copies to justify stocking a title. But for me, it also makes a publication a product, rather than something chosen to read. You can’t flick through a poly bagged comic to see what’s in it, there’s no “try before you buy”.

      Many publishers have gone to considerable lengths to reduce the environmental impact of gifts. Many are not plastic, either, but educational, and again, Waitrose is not looking to ban those.