Bandai recycles leftover Gundam model kit frames into new toys

A major toy maker is stepping up recycling efforts so that the grim future described in the sci-fi anime franchise “Mobile Suit Gundam” never becomes a reality.

The Bandai Namco group, well known for their plastic model Gundam kits, often referred to as “Gunpla” for short, has launched a new campaign called “Operation R” to collect and recycle the plastic pieces left over from the model kits.

It produces new recycled kits from the plastic frames discarded when consumers put the parts together to make their robot models. Hobbyist model builders previously had no choice but to get rid of this type of waste, called runners or clusters.

The new recycling campaign aims to educate Gunpla enthusiasts about the environment.

“The cooperation of our fans is essential to prevent the increased interest (in this) from being lost quickly as a temporary trend,” said a public relations manager from Bandai Spirits Co., which sells the model kits in plastic. “We will continue to work with them in preparation for the Universal Century (the fictional future of the Gundam series) to come.”

During an event held in the Shinjuku Sumitomo building in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo on November 20 and 21, visitors were greeted by a life-size replica of the head of the robot Gundam, made up of 3,000 runners. The site was adorned with 100,000 runners that the recycling project had collected. All of these should be recycled into new kits.

The event was meant to urge Gunpla enthusiasts who purchase models as part of Operation Recycle, a corporate social responsibility campaign named in honor of the franchise’s Operation V, to return their used racers.

Bandai Spirits said they have installed waste collection boxes in 190 locations nationwide and have now received around 1 ton of old runners in a month from the start of the campaign.

At the event, the company gave away free “green” reproductions of Gundam, made from recycled skates. Visitors could also assemble the kits there, attracting many Gundam lovers and families.

The company began making models of recycled plastic products in 2006 by reusing factory waste. The company started using old skates that it collected from customers in April of this year.

Since the runners come from various model kits, not all colors match, so the company needs to recolor them to black.

This poses various challenges for the environmental project, so Bandai Spirits is working on technology that can sort runners by color or treat them with chemicals to make them transparent. Kits using these techniques are expected to be available on the market around 2025.

The recycling effort fits in with some of the topics of the futuristic anime franchise, where environmental issues are a lingering theme in its many series. In “Mobile Suit Gundam”, people move to space after Earth becomes overcrowded.

In the latest movie “Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash,” which hit theaters in June this year, the protagonist engages in anti-government activities to protect the environment.