We are not just talking about awareness amongst parents, either. Children are taught about the importance of protecting the planet from an early age, and it is a cause that many feel passionate about. So, it is important that toy suppliers and retailers gauge the public mood and react by ensuring that their products, packaging and processes adhere to best practice.
The events of the past year have only accelerated the trend for eco-friendly products and packaging, as people have rediscovered the value of nature and the environment against a backdrop of a global pandemic and scenes of extreme weather events in Europe and across the globe.
We have already seen several major toy companies introduce ambitious environmental initiatives: MGA has announced a ground-breaking project with recycling specialist TerraCycle, while the company is also manufacturing products and packaging with a new patent-pending compound that facilitates the degradation of plastic in landfill conditions. Hasbro has also announced a partnership with TerraCycle that will see the launch of a free recycling programme for its products within the UK, while Lego has revealed a £310m investment in sustainability commitments to include plastics, waste, emissions and the circular economy.
Like many toy companies, Golden Bear has invested heavily in reducing its environmental footprint, changing many the raw materials used in its products and packaging to more sustainable alternatives, while operating a ‘zero to landfill’ policy. Meanwhile Dantoy has launched a ‘take back’ project, collecting used Dantoy products from consumers to be recycled, while SES Creative has decided to purchase and manage several European forest in an effort to offset its carbon footprint.
Retailers are also picking up on the trend: department store Selfridges is throwing its weight behind the sustainability movement, having introduced over 90 new lines to its sustainable and eco-friendly toy ranges, as part of the retailer’s Project Earth initiative. Meanwhile, many independent specialist toy stores such as Whirligig and Wigwam Toys have curated toy ranges which lean heavily on environmentally friendly toy lines from a range of companies.
There is no doubt that toy companies across the globe have made major strides in the fields of sustainability and environmental responsibility in recent years: from introducing innovative packaging ideas to using recycled stuffing material, eco-friendly inks and biodegradable components, the toy sector is working hard to address valid consumer concerns and deliver sustainable solutions.
However, it is important that these solutions are genuine and not just ‘green-washing’: the credibility of the toy industry relies on companies making meaningful changes, not just using empty words and putting slogans like ‘eco-friendly’ on the packaging. It is also important that these changes can be made within a sustainable commercial framework: consumers want to support environmentally friendly products and initiatives, and most accept that there is a premium to pay – but that premium has to be acceptable and affordable. Products can have impeccable credentials and the best intentions, but will consumers pay double the price for the privilege, compared to a standard product?
It is undeniable that the toy industry needs to address the question of sustainability wherever it can across the supply chain: our consumers want us to do it and, ultimately, it is the right thing to do. However, perhaps it is important to recognize that this is a long-term objective: some companies will blaze a trail and lead the way with ambitious projects, while others may need to start by taking small steps and build gradually from there. There is no single solution, no one-size-fits-all approach which will work for every company and every product; each company needs to look at its product range, its packaging and its processes and assess where realistic change can most meaningfully be made.
As an industry, we should not be afraid to make the case for responsible use of plastics in the manufacture of toys, while simultaneously ensuring that we do whatever we can to preserve the planet for future generations. It is a major challenge to get the balance right, but I have complete faith that the global toy community will step up and deliver on this crucial promise.