Every action figure enthusiast falls firmly on one side of this debate: Should collectibles stay in their boxes, or is it OK to take them out? Soon, this question may no longer be quite so relevant in the collector community due to a major eco-friendly packaging initiative from Hasbro.
Hasbro produces a variety of popular action figure lines, including Marvel Legends and Star Wars The Black Series. Last August, the company announced that it would begin phasing out plastic packaging in its products this year, with a plan to remove nearly all plastic elements from new product packaging by 2022.
According to Kathrin Belliveau, Hasbro’s senior vice president of government affairs and corporate social responsibility, a few plastic elements will have to stay — primarily tape, glue, and stickers.
Most other plastic components are on the chopping block, including blister packs and window sheets, which are both standard issue in action figure packaging. In some cases, Hasbro will eliminate these elements entirely and have open packaging. In others, the company will replace plastic pieces with paper or other materials.
“The collector community is very important to Hasbro, and we will use this opportunity to explore what the future of collectibles can be,” Belliveau says. “We will do everything possible to ensure our future collector items will continue to remain just that. We know that our consumers share our passion for sustainability. We believe our consumers and retailers will embrace this initiative.”
Eliminating plastic also gives Hasbro a chance to be innovative. According to Belliveau, the company has internal crowd-sourcing events that encourage employees to share their ideas on plastic replacements. Despite these assurances, removing plastic in action figure packaging does raise some concerns for Hasbro and collectors alike.
“The collector community is very important to Hasbro, and we will use this opportunity to explore what the future of collectibles can be.”
One obvious worry among collectors, in the case of closed packaging, is not being able to inspect the quality of the exact figure they are buying, down to the small, specific details they care about. Daniel Pickett, editor-in-chief of Action Figure Insider, says that some collectors won’t even shop online because it doesn’t offer them the chance to select the best action figure on the shelf.
“Because of the mass production nature of these things, not every [figure] is going to be a home run,” Pickett says. “You are going to have crossed eyes or some paint missing, … and if you can’t see [the figure], it really is kind of a crapshoot.”
The collector who runs the ToyShiz Instagram and YouTube accounts, and who prefers to be attributed by his online moniker, raised the same concern, saying that many collectors want to get the best quality for their money. On the other hand, he notes that Japanese collectibles, such as Transformers figures, have come in closed-box packaging for a long time with great success.
Pickett also notes that if tariffs ever come to fruition and drive up the cost of collectibles, packaging will become less and less important for collectors who want to keep up with all of Hasbro’s new figures. “People would almost rather have it just in a baggie with a piece of cardboard stapled on top if it means that the prices aren’t going to keep going up,” he says.
Another major concern — which Pickett, ToyShiz, and Belliveau all share — is that less packaging increases the risk of theft in stores. There is already a trend of people purchasing Hasbro figures, removing the parts they want to keep, replacing them with other — often cheaper — figures and accessories, and then returning the altered product to get their money back. (Check out the #figureswap on Instagram to see some examples.)
This is especially prevalent with the Marvel Legends line, in which a high volume of figures, many obscure characters, and the desire for build-a-figure pieces combine to create a perfect storm. “[Walmart employees] don’t know these characters,” Pickett says. “They mean nothing to the people at the counter doing returns. … They just look at it and go, ‘Oh, is there anything wrong with it?’ and the guy goes, ‘nope,’ and so they just take it and put it back on the shelf. So if there is windowless packaging, it seems like it will be even easier for people to be able to do those figure swaps.”
So, will the collector community rebel against these changes? “Of course there’s going to be some pushback in the initial run,” ToyShiz says. “I think it’s going to be a bit of a transitionary period, but I don’t think it’ll go completely south where people will stop collecting.”
Pickett is more curious to see exactly what Hasbro will do, especially when replacing more iconic packaging, such as for the 3.75-inch Star Wars figures, which have come in a blister pack on cardboard backing with a silver stripe for more than 40 years.
“I’m in several collector groups and have had discussions with folks,” he says. “I think the overarching thing is anything that inches us closer to doing things better for the planet is good. … But for the people who still love collecting them all and hanging them all on their walls together, it’ll be interesting to see what solution [Hasbro] comes up with to still keep it in the world of what collectors are familiar with.”
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Winter 2020 Issue No. 6, click here to read more!