In an industry dependent on plastic that targets children, the environmental and social impacts are multiplied tenfold. With this in mind, toy companies large and small are moving towards a more sustainable world.
In the 1960s film, blissful, there is a brief scene where a child, Jimmy Bean, runs down an old country road with a hoop and stick, playing a game called hoop rolling. He walks past two girls pushing their respective dolls in strollers. Although the scene is inconsequential to the film as a whole, it depicts a relatively accurate toy industry scene in the early 1900s when the film is set. Entertainment through simplicity was what characterized the toy industry until the late 1900s, with games like hopscotch, cat’s cradle, dolls and electric trains reigning supreme in the mid-20th century. . But with the boom in home televisions increasing by more than 50% in the late 1900s, in conjunction with advertising and a booming toy market, playthings were now mass-produced, with children wanting more of “what’s popular”, under a rapidly changing umbrella.
This boom in the toy industry happened alongside the advent of plastic, which made it possible to manufacture products faster and more cheaply. Toys that were once made from wood, rope, fabric or various metals were now being made from plastic for consumer use – and as a result, every item now lived longer in a landfill or in our homes. oceans than he would ever do to the heart of a child. A 90 billion dollar industry, toys »[use] 40 tons of plastic for every million dollars in revenue and it is the most plastic-consuming industry in the world. With an estimated 11 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the world’s oceans each year, diverting just half of the plastic used in toys could make a significant difference. Now we know that plastic pollution is more detrimental to our environment than it is an eye candy. The chemicals present in plastics ensure that they do not break down easily, making them durable and versatile, two characteristics that have solidified their essential use in all sectors, from the medical industry to hospitality to the toys.
These chemicals, such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), are poisoning marine life and wildlife, including the systems they depend on, which has not only led to endangered species, but also altered ecosystems globally. As every being is connected to the Earth and all its creatures and systems, these disruptions impact the food chain and water supply, among various other networks. Additionally, as the plastic decomposes on the land, the chemical makeup changes, altering the composition of the soil, which impacts the agricultural system while contaminating the food supply; the proof of which can be found in the recent study which found microplastics in humans. When it comes to children, many chemicals in plastic toys, like the aforementioned phthalates and BPA, can lead to hormonal changes and birth defects, as well as liver and kidney cancer.
Moreover, the stable hold that consumerism and capitalism have on parents is only inherited by their children, who are conditioned to be “ideal” capitalists. Every few weeks and every month, a new toy, movie franchise or interest is released, with the renewed promise of better entertainment and more fun, all rooted in a certain “I gotta l ‘have”. These same children, who beg their parents for the latest technology or the latest product from the toy industry, grow up to be adults in a consumerist world, who have been subliminally taught to buy until they are sick, without lose sight of waste.
Toys that were once made from wood, rope and fabric are now made from plastic – and each item now lives longer in a landfill than it ever would in a child’s heart. .
Even given the extent to which the world is moving towards a sustainable future, it can be daunting to figure out what will be both environmentally friendly and fun for a child growing up in a world that increasingly demands and wants more. Yet the safety of the planet and its children depends on a change in our approach to buying and making toys. While the desire for such changes is present among parents and consumers, the dangers of greenwashing can be pronounced, especially for parents who don’t have the time or resources to do additional research.
Take for example some of the biggest names in toys. LEGO, Mattel and Hasbro are all making changes to how they manufacture and package products. LEGO now makes some products from sugarcane polyethylene, which may seem less harmful to the environment than its previous practices, but the new generation of LEGOs may still be toxic during the blackout period. Although it is derived from sugar cane, it is not biodegradable. “Other companies use bamboo in their products and advertise that it’s environmentally friendly,” says Dr. Amanda Gummer, research psychologist and founder of The Good Play Guide. “This is true for bamboo, but for it to meet toy industry safety standards, it needs to be covered in plastic.” This final coating removes the possibility of recycling the toy and continues to encourage plastic production. While sturdy, well-made bamboo toys can be passed down for a few generations, the lack of buy-back or repair programs in the United States makes landfill or our oceans more likely destinations.
“When I entered the consulting world, I started interviewing toy companies. I wanted to know why it seemed like big companies weren’t doing much,” says Sonia Sanchez, an impact and sustainability consultant based in the UK “But it’s not that simple. Companies want to switch to more sustainable materials, and the issue isn’t even that it’s expensive. It’s about finding the supply.”
But there are still reasons for hope. A new generation of toy companies is emerging with the intention of building their business models with sustainability in mind. Green Toys is one such company. The California-based company makes every toy from 100% recycled plastic, mostly from used milk jugs or yogurt pots. Their practices help divert materials that could get lost in a mismanaged waste and recycling system, while creating fun, colorful and interactive toys for toddlers. Their production and consumption processes are also much less extensive than those of Mattel, Hasbro or LEGO. For the biggest names in toy to find enough resources to continue providing their customers with toys and their shareholders with profits, they would need a massive amount of materials.
Even so, the seriousness with which companies pursue these materials seems to be changing. “Just asking for more sustainable supplies is making a difference,” says Sanchez. Suppliers are receiving industry-wide requests for more environmentally friendly manufacturing materials from the largest producers in the toy industry. As the economy goes, it is the hope that this demand will eventually be met by supply.
It’s not just the materials children play with that matter. The toy industry, with its unprecedented access and influence on young hearts and minds, is in a unique position to influence the psychology of future generations. “Play is a really powerful tool for opening up conversations about many issues. Parents are looking for products that are both sustainably made and help children learn about environmental issues,” says Dr. Gummer. “The industry has the ability to play on sustainability through buy-back, repair or recycling programs and introducing it at a young age through playful content and activities.” Consumers Today today are raising tomorrow’s consumers, and at the forefront of these parents’ desires are less consumption, longer use and more sustainable options. .
Between supply chain, cost, and manufacturing hurdles, the idea that any company, large or small, established or developing, can tackle the issue of sustainability on its own is a farce. Instead, many toy companies are approaching the challenge the way activists, states and countries should and often do to tackle the climate crisis. They work together to find the solution. “They’re really open to sharing and open sourcing what they’re doing to allow other companies to learn from them,” says Andrea Green of Products of Change, a global organization that helps companies in their sustainability efforts. “They ask, How can we be more responsible for what customers want and what the environment needs? It’s about Planet, People, Profit.” Without the first two, the second ceases to exist, and while it may be a socialist dream to wish profit wasn’t even a factor, industries seem to be moving in the right direction within the parameters of their existence. .
Photographer Tami Aftab Stylist Annabel Lucey Scenographer Max Randall Makeup artist Emily Wood Models Naoko Sato; Zarina Shukri; Joe Carlyle