Sustainability is one of the biggest trends of the year for toys, according to experts. Giant companies such as Mattel, Hasbro, and Lego have hurried to announce big changes at the recent Toy Fair New York to improve their green credentials. At the same time, smaller and newer companies are avoiding bad habits altogether by producing environmentally-conscious toys right out of the gate.
“Companies are trying to be more environmentally conscious with their products, whether it’s using their packaging that has less plastic or making sure that their packaging is part of the toy,” said Maddie Michalik, Senior Editor for Toy Insider, an influential industry magazine. “I mean, it’s really taking over the industry and we’re going to see a lot more of it this year,” Michalik added.
We are yet to see these big changes, however. Professor Tensie Whelan former head of the Rainforest Alliance and currently director of the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business points out that a focus on sustainability practices in the toy industry is long overdue.
“We’ve got 60 million kids under 14 in the United States. We’ve got 90 per cent of toys made of plastic. We have chemical issues, waste disposal issues, social supply chain issues. So, a lot of things that need to be addressed,” Professor Whelan said to AP.
Making toys for the current generation of children requires a very different approach than some 10 years ago as the so-called Generation Alpha (children born from 2010 to 2025) is far more eco-conscious than the previous one. A 2019 report from Wunderman Thompson Commerce finds that 63 per cent of this generation would like to work somewhere helping to save the planet when they grow up.
For its 75th Anniversary, Mattel, the company behind Barbie, Fisher-Price and numerous other popular toy lines, has made serious commitments to sustainability.
Senior Public Relations Managers Scott Shaffstall spoke about several product lines the company has introduced, including Mega Blocks derived from bio-based resins as well as a version of the traditional Fisher-Price Rock-A-Stack made of bio-based sugar cane plastic.
He also claims that Mattel is making its packaging more environmentally friendly by using 93 per cent recycled materials. Though, Ms Whelan says, “you’d have to be looking at waste, carbon emissions, water emissions, the product themselves, what their supply chain partners are doing. And none of that is very transparent.”
BUILDING BLOCKS FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Another giant on the market, Lego, plans to make 100 per cent of its packaging sustainable by 2025 and uses plant-based plastic for certain products, notably in the Lego Treehouse set. The plastic alternative made of sugar-cane, however, cannot guarantee at this point that it will last for many generations of play.
“Our long term goal is to create a zero-impact product,” said Tim Brooks Vice President, Corporate Responsibility at LEGO Group to AFP. “The number one question we get people asking us is: “how do I recycle my lego bricks?” and we say “stop, we don’t want you to recycle, we want you to reuse them,” said Brooks.