Plastic-Free Barbie: Hoax Daryl Hannah Ad Announced as Awareness Campaign by Climate Change Activists
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Capitalising on all the hype surrounding the Barbie movie, an ad for a plastic-free Barbie has been revealed as an elaborate stunt by climate change activists. It saw political pranksters the Yes Men pose as Mattel to pen a fake press release announcing the MyCelia EcoWarrior Barbies and the company’s plan to go plastic-free by 2030.
The ad featured American actress and climate activist Daryn Hannah, aiming to raise awareness about Barbie’s use of plastic and its environmental footprint. The fake release stated Mattel’s intention to support a federal ban on non-essential plastic use in the US, with a quote attributed to CEO Ynon Kreiz reading: “We have made more than a billion plastic Barbies, and enough is enough. With our plastic-free commitment, we denounce the empty promises of plastic recycling and take a bold step towards real ecological sustainability. Only sustainably produced toys can provide sustainable joy.”
The new EcoWarrior Barbie dolls were modelled on eco-activists like Greta Thunberg, Julia Butterfly Hill, Phoebe Plummer, Nemonte Nenquimo, and Hannah herself. And another release revealed a planned expansion to honour over 2,500 global activists who have died or been killed while protecting nature in the last decade.
“Barbie has changed in many ways since I was a girl, but under the surface, she’s still toxic,” said Hannah in the release. “Now, when she’s done being used, instead of persisting forever as a poison Barbie will be able to return to the earth, just like all living things.”
Using satire as political and climate activism
The Yes Men, comprising Igor Vamos and Jacques Servin (better known as their activist doppelgangers Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum), have been using satire to raise awareness about corporate fallacies for over two decades. They have form with protests against Mattel, too: in 1993, the group formed the Barbie Liberation Organization, which switched voices between 100 talking Barbie and GI Joe dolls to spotlight the sexist phrases prescribed to the Barbie dolls.
This project was a reprise of the 1993 one. On August 1, the same day the hoax press release was floated to journalists via fake email addresses and websites, the Yes Men and Hannah convened a press conference as the Barbie Liberation Organization to reveal the hoax. Vamos called it the “most successful PR coup of all time” when it came to people’s perception of surface changes in the dolls representing a fundamental change in our cultural dynamic.
A Mattel spokesperson has since confirmed to media outlets that the announcement is fabricated and a hoax, and has nothing to do with the corporation.
Barbie’s plastic problem and Mattel’s sustainability goals
The entire stunt was planned to highlight the environmental and human rights issues attached to the manufacturing of Barbie dolls. In the fake press release, the EcoWarrior Barbie was said to be made of “only compostable natural materials like mushroom mycelium, algae, seaweed, clays, wood cellulose, and bamboo”. The real dolls are plastic.
The Plastic Pollution Coalition says all Barbie-related products contain “at least five types of fossil fuel-based plastics: polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and hard vinyl – plus additive chemicals”, one of which is linked to health problems including asthma, metabolic disorders and obesity.
It adds: “When no longer desired or usable, Barbies, and other plastic toys, and all of their plastic packaging, are almost always not recyclable – because plastic was not designed to be recycled.” Around 60 million Barbies are sold annually – that’s over 100 every minute. The Yale Environment Review notes that this contributes “emissions equivalent to burning 381 million gallons of gasoline.”
Then there are the labour issues. “Barbie is still literally made out of oil by sweatshop workers,” Vamos told Yahoo Entertainment. “But we’re caught up in identity politics and losing track of what’s happening, which is the planet is being destroyed right in front of us… To say the doll is feminist now when the toy is contaminating the environment that the future of all humanity and all life depends on is kind of a colossal and bizarre joke.”
Responding to the stunt, Mattel told Yahoo: “We have long ago announced our sustainability goals, most notably to achieve 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials by 2030.” The stated aims also include reducing plastic packaging by 25% per product, achieving zero manufacturing waste, and reducing its absolute scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 50%.
To that end, Mattel introduced a range of carbon-neutral-certified and recycled ocean-bound plastic Barbies in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute in 2022. The lineup comprised a Dr Jane Goodall doll and the Eco-Leadership Team, which included a Chief Sustainability Officer, Conservation Scientist, Renewable Energy Engineer and Environmental Advocate.
Just like the movie, the Yes (K)en have certainly caused a stir – where does Mattel go next?