Sustainability in China’s Toy Industry

In terms of the private level, Ant Forest [2], a virtual-turned-reality tree planting initiative is an impressive example. Launched in 2016 by Ant Financial Services Group, an Alibaba affiliate, the initiative promotes greener lifestyles by inspiring Alipay users to reduce carbon emissions through daily actions like taking public transport, rejecting disposable tableware, or joining recycling affiliated programs [3]. By 2019, the initiative has involved 500 million people and planted 100 million trees [4]. With its remarkable contribution to environmental protection, the program won UN Champions Earth Award [5].  

Make the planet greener
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Source: China Global Television Network

Sustainability in Toy Industry

Sustainability is emerging as a new development direction for the toy industry, which is trying to implement sustainability in material selection, manufacturing process and toy trade.  

Manufacturing Side – Sustainable Materials

Careful selection of sustainable materials makes the first step. Plant-based materials, those renewable ones such as wood, bamboo, rice and wheat straw, are favored. In 2019, Sowow®, a Shantou-based toy manufacturer, released a new toy line named Wheat Block, which was made from wheat straw. By hot pressing, the straw-based blocks have better shape-setting properties. They will not deform even at 100 °C—120°C. At room temperature, it emits light wheat fragrance. Moreover, this new material is degradable, making it environmentally friendly and pollution-free [6]. Another example includes Hape Pallina Game [7] made from bamboo, a plant that grows very fast and can be easily sourced in various regions in China.

At the latest virtual Canton Fair (04/2021), Gentle Treasures, a Jiangsu-Province-based toy company launched a new series of ECO plush toys. They were made from fibers that come from recycled plastic bottles [8]. Now 25% Gentle Treasures’ plush toys adopt such eco materials and the percentage is expected to reach 50% in the coming 3-5 years. 

Simplified or plastic-free packing become two new ways to promote sustainability. BanBao, one of the leading toy brick companies in China, has successfully developed a new paper-based packing material that has features similar to plastic [9]. Covered by nano-scale water-based coating, the new material is waterproof, oil-proof and heat-proof without plastic film. In addition, it is recyclable and degradable. It has passed national standard test in China, FDA in US, and food packaging material safety test in EU. In 2021, BanBao put it into use to replace plastic bags inside toy brick boxes.


Sowow toy
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Source: Sowow®
Gentle Treasures ECO
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Source: Gentle Treasures®

Manufacturing Side – Sustainable Manufacturing Process

Sustainable manufacturing process helps to save energy and control environmental pollution. Take coloring in plastic toy manufacturing for example. The traditional process adopts colorant in powder form, which causes serious dust pollution when mixing materials and a waste of water to clean the machine when switching models. Liquid masterbatch introduced by Guangdong Bosi Sci & Tech Co., Ltd. is one of solutions for this problem [10]. In the liquid form, the new masterbatch reduces the generation of dust and sewage from manufacturing process. Moreover, it features excellent dispersion performance and tinctorial property, making the same beautifully colored products with lower dosage. Complying with FDA in US and GB9685-2016 requirements in China, the new coloring technology has been proved safe and eco-friendly. One more example is the painting process. The sustainable technology turns the conventional spray painting into roll painting when applying water-based painting to wooden toys. This new way reduces material consumption, and cuts down waste.

Trade Side

With the rapid economic development, Chinese parents show growing interest in sustainable toys from international brands. Thanks to developed e-commerce system in China, Chinese consumers are able to purchase from around the world via various cross border e-commerce platform, such as Tmall Global and JD Worldwide. More and more International toy companies are allured to open brick-and-mortar and online stores in China, offering more choices of sustainable products. I found a rice clay series from a Japanese toy company with a history of approximate 90 years [11]. This range of high-quality rice clay is made from: rice, salt and water. Originated from nature, the ingredients are perfectly safe for children and adults. There will be no worries of protein allergy. It is very soft to touch and not easy to dry up. The rice clay can be mixed and then forms a new color.

Japanese Rice Clay
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Source: GINCHO


To sum up, sustainability in toy industry is being improved from concepts to practices in terms of manufacturing and market distribution. I believe this trend will gear up in the near future. 

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1. Good Practice on Implementing the UN Strategic Plan for Forests (2017-2030)

2. The Philippines launches its own 'Ant Forest' inspired by Alibaba

3. How an in-app game helps slow down climate change

4. Forest at Fingertips

5. Chinese initiative Ant Forest wins UN Champions of the Earth award

6. Three examples of Toy Innovation

7. Hape Pallina Game

8. Gentle Treasures

9. Paper-based packing material that replace plastic packaging

10. Liquid masterbatch

11. GINCHO Rice Clay