Plastic models of characters from the popular TV animation series "Mobile Suit Gundam," known in Japan as "GUNPLA," (Gundam Plastic Models) were a social phenomenon among young people back in the 1980’s. Some forty years on, GUNPLA still attracts fans of all ages. Now, the Bandai Namco Group, the maker of the Gundam plastic models, are partnering with these fans to take on the challenge of recycling resources.
The "GUNPLA Recycling Project"
The "GUNPLA Recycling Project" launched by four Bandai Namco Group companies involves the collection of “runners,” which are the disposable frames that hold the plastic model parts in the original package, turning the runners into new plastic models. This is done through cutting-edge chemical recycling technology.
Collected runners, together with other waste plastics from the Bandai Hobby Center, a plant that produces GUNPLA, are recycled for use in three ways. First, some are used for demonstration experiments of the latest chemical recycling technology. These demonstrations involve chemically decomposing polystyrene, the main materials used in plastic models, and recycling it into styrene monomer, a key raw material of polystyrene. This technology makes it possible to recycle used plastics into new plastics that can be reused in a broad range of applications including new GUNPLA models. Second, collected runners are also partially used for material recycling and recycled into resin for "ECOPLA," (Eco Plastic Models) and are reborn as new GUNPLA. In cooperation with partner companies, the remainder of the collected runners are reused for thermal recycling for sustainable power generation.
Maximizing the Efficiency of Recycling
The GUNPLA Recycling Project aims to achieve highly-efficient recycling by collecting runners in a way that minimizes the resources required for crushing and reuse.
Bandai Namco Group has installed dedicated collection boxes at its approximately 200 namco stores nationwide as well as other stores belonging to the Group. Trucks making deliveries of goods to those stores collect runners on their return trips to minimize the burden related to the distribution process. Since the Since GUNPLA are all Bandai Namco products with familiar components, the company can reuse the plastic for new plastic models by employing a simple crushing process.
Participation in Resources Recycling Starting from "Love for GUNPLA"
Since their launch, GUNPLA models have continued to be much loved and cherished by their many fans. The experiences of the parents are handed down to their children and GUNPLA becomes a source of fun for people across generations. As resources recycling has attracted people's attention, the new concept of fan-based recycling programs like this emerged and have been making further progress. The love of the GUNPLA fans will lead to higher awareness of resource recycling and will contribute to creating a more sustainable society.
Plastic is ubiquitous in modern society because it can be used in such a wide range of applications. Yet there is a growing global awareness of the very significant problems linked to the management and disposal of plastic waste, such as marine plastic. Japan recognizes that the scale of the problem requires urgent attention. Building on Japan’s strong track in the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), METI is promoting new legislation in this area. Effective from April 2022, the Act on Promotion of Resource Circulation for Plastics is designed to strengthen programs that promote the recycling and reuse of plastic resources in Japan.