Last month, the new Barbie movie hit the scene like a bedazzled hot-pink tornado. Yet, even as Barbie bravely tries to tackle its own image as the poster girl for consumerism, that hasn’t stopped brands from capitalising on the Barbie aesthetic for branded t-shirts and merchandise that will lose its relevance. Many of these items, bought in the spur of the Barbie-Fever, will be thrown away. Their resting place most likely amongst the growing landfills on the other side of the globe where most of us cannot see the damage of their impact. These landfills are located in South Asia or Africa – take for example the Atacama Desert in Chile; piles of clothes from the West of the world continue to be discarded there. Many of these clothes contain plastic in the form of polyester, which is difficult to get rid of. It takes between 20 – 700 years to degrade, and even then the tiny fragments that it’s been broken down to remain in our environment known as ‘micro-plastics.’
It is an important feature of the Barbie movie that we see Barbie grapple with the concept of humanity and make her transition into the modern world. She becomes human and sheds her plastic identity; and perhaps we should start doing the same.
According to National Geographic, “every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world ”. Some have pointed out that the movie may even just be a launching pad for a new genre– live action toy movies. If the viral frenzy for all things #Barbiecore is anything to go by, there could be many more t-shirts and items of clothing swapped out for whatever may be coming next. This becomes even more pressing when, as it currently stands, 80% of toys end up in landfills, according to an environmental review carried out by Yale.
The same environmental review claims that toy consumption is one of the biggest ongoing issues for the environment. Each year, 60 million Barbie dolls are sold, contributing emissions equivalent to burning 381 million gallons of gasoline. Although toys are not the same as single-use plastics, we must find ways to reduce our purchase of plastic items as much as possible. In a world that is experiencing recording breaking heatwaves in certain parts of the world and immense flooding in others, it may be time to make a little more room for sustainable toys. Introducing Pookie – ‘A Green Hero’. Pookie may not have the spectacular wardrobe or delightful dreamhouse that Barbie is well-known for, but Pookie does have the importance of good environmental practices in mind. They believe in fostering and caretaking the nature that surrounds us and putting our best foot forward to keep it safe.
The longevity of toys is starting to emerge. Manufacturers are careful with the products they select to produce their toys and are more aware of their location and how that may strain the environment further through fossil-fueled transport. It may take a while for Barbie and other toy companies to completely adjust to this new world, but it doesn’t take much for say, Pookie, and other wood-based toys that are responsible for less emissions. It may be easier said than done when it comes to children’s toys. Try as much as possible to by second-hand plastic toys or give away the ones you no longer use.
It may not be fair to place too much blame on a fictional doll. Barbie has reopened a very important conversation that we all must say keenly aware of. This is perhaps the biggest show and embrace of cinema we have seen in a long time – the revival of movie-going has been a long time coming. It’s easy to see why many of us want to take part in the celebration of not just ‘Barbie’ but life gone back to relative normality. However, this post-pandemic buzz needs to be somewhat grounded in our environmental responsibilities and we must take into consideration the long-term impact of our actions.
There is no shame in repping your pink suit – but think carefully and consciously about what you purchase. Try upcycling clothes you already have, perhaps see if friends are down to do a clothes-swap for the night. If that doesn’t suit, and there’s truly nothing pink at hand, then try thinking carefully about the items you do buy; could you wear this for a future event such as work, party or family gathering? How much do you wear pink in your day-to-day life to begin with?
Overall, we need to take the steps to think about how and what we consume, especially regarding plastics. Barbie land is a place of empowerment, wonder and endless possibility – what if we fostered those traits in our own world and continue to strive for better; so let’s think Barbie, just without the plastic.
Victory Luke, Climate Ambassador for SSE Airtricity