What is Gunpla made of? And is it recyclable?
Gundam is one of the most popular franchises that can be considered timeless and priceless, especially in the eyes of enthusiasts. The franchise is not limited to the realms of anime and manga alone.
The most sought-after aspect of this iconic series is Gunpla. The term Gunpla is the portmanteau for “Gundam plastic model” ( ガンプラ Ganpura). Building Gunpla allows enthusiasts to construct and customize amazingly detailed replicas of the highly addictive mobile suits. Bandai announced the sale of Gunpla hit 700 million sets worldwide as of March 2021.
There is no doubt that even after decades since Gunpla was released, a thriving community of Gundam builders exists worldwide mainly on social media and within community groups. Environmental consciousness is also becoming evident too. What is the impact of the materials used on our environment? It’s a question being asked more often within the community. In this article, we’ll shed light on what Gunpla is made of. Can it be recycled and what role you can play.
What is Gunpla made of?
In 2021, Bandai reported approximately 2000 tons of frame waste was generated from the 7000 tons of plastic it used to produce its iconicunpla models per year.
The current evolution of Gunpla utilizes materials such as PS, PE, ABS, PP, and PVC. There is definitely a reason why these materials are used. We will examine each material for its key characteristics.
It has transparent and lightweight properties that make the assembly of Gunpla kits easier and faster. Most parts you use to build your Gundam are made from polystyrene material. Its ease of moulding, smooth surface finish, and ability to hold fine details make it the perfect choice.
PS is typically used for major body components like the torso, limbs, and head. Polystyrene is not biodegradable. Being non-biodegradable means PS, it doesn’t pollute the waterways and air when put in landfill, making it an environmentally acceptable material. However, there are still ways to make it more environmentally friendly. One is to continue to develop more sustainable forms of polystyrene in its hard form. We’ve already seen great advances in new environmentally friendly products such as foam, insulation and void fill using modified PS.
Good news is Polystyrene is recyclable. However, the ease and availability of recycling varies across the world. Recycling programs for polystyrene do exist but the cost of specialized facilities remain prohibitive.
This material is known for its flexibility and strength which is perfect for the durability of the movable joints and parts. As a result, Gunpla kits will be able to pose without the need to compromise their structural integrity. You can find polyethylene in parts that need articulation, just like ball joints, connection points, and movable armour pieces.
Polyethylene has a very low impact on the environment because it can be produced using renewable resources, such as sugarcane ethanol, further reducing its carbon footprint.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
The combination of rigidity and impact resistance are the primary reasons why ABS is often used on Gunpla kits. Gunpla builders will have at some time experienced the disappointment of knocking over a build, parts dislodging and impacting on a hard surface. ABS is an excellent choice and is usually present in solid components like armour plates, weapon accessories, and larger structural pieces. The good thing about ABS is that it can be reused in other applications which minimizes waste products. ABS plastics are a thermoplastic meaning it can be heated and reused in a filament form.
The importance of great resistance to wear and tear must be present on any Gunpla kits and accessories, and PP is known to provide such qualities. This is because of its chemical resistance, strength, and thermal stability. PP is commonly used for structural components, such as the inner frame, joint connectors, and support pieces.
The high recyclability of polypropylene is evident because we can incinerate it with energy recovery, contributing to sustainable waste management practices.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
When it comes to the larger pieces of a Gunpla kit, PVC’s versatility comes into play. It is ideal for parts that need rigidity and flexibility such as hoses, cables, or certain weapon accessories. PVC also has a huge role in making intricate details possible for small accessories.
Although PVC is recyclable, its production and disposal can pose environmental challenges such as the presence of additives and its toxic nature can make the recycling processes complicated.
Is Gunpla Recyclable?
Actions Speak Louder than Words.
There are lots of components that make up a Gunpla and different plastic materials are used in each one of them.
Bandai has at least 190 collection points throughout Japan which accepts any waste plastic from Gunpla building. Bandai currently has no plan to introduce its recycling initiative to the rest of the world.
The company plans to reuse plastic waste in 2 ways. First, by recycling and creating a new plastic to make more Gunpla. Secondly, reusing the plastic to create heat conducting material. This material is able absorb the sun's energy and transfer it to a fluid passing through or under the heat conducting surface. More commonly known as thermal power generation.
There is another recycling program in Japan initiated by Bandai called the "Bandai Gunpla Eco-Plamo Recycling Project." This program allows customers to send back their used Gunpla parts to designated collection centres. The parts are then recycled into new plastic products, reducing waste, and promoting a circular economy. Bandai markets these products as “Ecopla” and are sold exclusively at Gundam Base locations throughout Japan. These kits are typically all black, a direct result of the recycling process needed to recycle the different types of plastics.
Ecopla aims to help the environment by incorporating a higher percentage of recycled or plant-based plastic materials in their construction.
In 2023, Bandai released a world's first Gunpla-Kun kit. The first coloured plastic environmentally friendly Gunpla. Gunpla-kun is made of LIMEX, a new material that contains over 50% limestone therefore reducing the total amount of petroleum derived plastics used. Recycling of LIMEX is possible using a purpose-built machine that can separate LIMEX from miscellaneous plastics.
Why Promote Sustainability in the Gunpla Community?
Waste reduction and responsible consumption are the most critical aspects of an efficient Gunpla community. Here are some ways to make your Gunpla experience an environmentally friendly one:
• Be a planner: You could plan and research things before you even buy your first Gunpla kit. Consider how much time you would want to devote to your models to avoid unfinished projects that will eventually become wasted plastic afterward.
• Learn to reuse: If you have extra parts from your previous builds, you might as well use them with your other projects or share them with other builders.
• Be a recycler: Check in your local area or stores to see if any plastic recycling plans are currently being offered.
• Store properly: Especially for toxic materials like glues, fillers, and paints. You can reuse them for your next project if you store them correctly.
• Be a champion: Approach your local government or authority, elected officials, local hobby store about starting a recycling initiative.