“Wasted”: greening the plastic-intensive toy industry

Plastic occupies an important place in the toy industry. Ninety percent of toys are made from some form of plastic and most of them are not recyclable.

One of the hottest toys of the Christmas season was something called the LOL Surprise Ball, a plastic ball that contains plastic toys, and sometimes more plastic balls, and lots of packaging plastic too.

This week on Day 6, we’re launching a new series called “Wasted”, and it’s all about waste – how we generate it, what happens to it, and how we can generally manage waste better.

After Santa’s visit, we start with an overview of the toys.

So what do you do with your old toys? Eventually, it turns into waste.– Miriam Diamond, Department of Earth Sciences, U of T

Toys are a $22 billion industry, which means a parcel of plastic. Most plastic toys are designed to be manufactured as cheaply as possible and often end up in the trash at the end of their life cycle.

Miriam Diamond is a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto. She says that while plastic makes toys more affordable, it also makes them more disposable.

“You now have the toy of the month. You turn it off,” she says. “So what do you do with your old toys?” They end up turning into waste. »

But some toy companies are taking a closer look at the materials they use, taking a greener approach to making their products.
The Green Toys “Meal Maker” play set, made from 100% recycled plastic. (Green Toys)

Recycled materials

Green Toys, a California-based company that has been in business for a decade, claims its products are 100% recycled, made from milk jugs and other types of recycled plastic.

We would like more companies to experiment with using recycled materials instead of virgin plastic.– Erin Passmore, Marketing and Sales Director of Green Toys

“Number 2 plastics, if you like plastics, this material is extremely safe,” says Cameron Passmore, director of marketing and sales operations for Green Toys.

“It is – unfortunately, in some ways – readily available due to the current use of plastic in North America, and we make durable and safe children’s products out of it, from trucks to tea sets to bath toys and buckets of sand.”

So if small companies like Green Toys can commit to creating their products from recyclable plastics, why can’t industry giants do the same?

“That’s a great question,” Passmore said. “We would like more companies to do this and experiment with using recycled material instead of virgin plastic, but there is research that needs to be done, and it is not the traditional material, so it is not maybe not a point of interest for some companies.”

The car carrier is one of the best-selling toys from Green Toys. (Green Toys)

When the founders of Green Toys started looking for ways to manufacture more sustainably, there weren’t many examples in the industry to draw inspiration from.

“Not in the durable goods they found, at least,” Passmore says. “There were definitely people doing it in plush, using organic cotton and fair trade and things like that. But for the most part, 10 years ago there wasn’t as much emphasis on reuse. materials than today. And so they looked at everything – bioplastics and corn plastics – and landed on this recycled HDPE [high-density polyethylene].”

Along with the eco-credibility of creating products from materials that are already recycled – Green Toys has used more than 52.6 million milk jugs in its toys to date, eliminating that much plastic from landfill – the company is also aiming to ensure that its products are built to last.

“The greenest toy is the one that he never ends up throwing away and stays in use,” notes Passmore.

Tons of plastic and other litter areas along the coastline of the Thames Estuary, an important feeding ground for waders and other marine life. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Innovation attempt

Green Toys isn’t about to start competing with the marketing power of toy behemoths like Fisher-Price and Hasbro, but their eco-friendly approach is appealing to parents concerned about the provenance and sustainability of what they’re bringing into the home. home for their children.

Parents are starting to look at toys like they do at food – they want to know what’s in them [and] where are they from.-Erin Passmore

“We’re more or less marketing to parents. We’re not selling our products to a 3-year-old, we’re selling it to their parents, to their grandparents, to the gift givers who make those buying decisions. “, says Passmore.

“Parents are starting to look at toys like they do with food – they want to know what’s in them, they want to know where they come from – and in terms of the transparency and the quality of the materials and the transparency of the chain of supply, we think we can compete with anyone.”

While Green Toys’ approach is partly in direct opposition to the sea of ​​rigid plastics produced by the toy industry, the company does not point the finger at its competitors for the environmental consequences of their products.

“We just focus on ourselves,” says Passmore. “We’re very committed to taking an environmental stance in what we do and making sure that while we always make great products for kids, we also make great products for the environment.”

More toymakers will need to adopt greener practices before the industry’s environmental impact really starts to change, Passmore says.

“Hopefully this sector of businesses continues to grow as more people join this movement and choose a cause, whether it’s plastics or plush materials, or arts and crafts materials. crafts, or anything in the toy industry,” she says.

“We just think we’re going to make good products for kids that are safe, that’s developmentally appropriate, that’s fun, and we’re going to compete with anyone who makes those same kinds of products.”

Some toy companies are trying to become greener so their items don’t end up in landfill. (iStock/Getty Images)

“Ready for the next generation”

Anyone who has seen Toy Story 3 knows that all toys eventually come to the end of their life. In the real world, many plastic toys end up in landfill, but what about products from Green Toys?

“Green toys are actually recyclable at the end of their life because we don’t have metal axles, screws, paints or additives. They are 100% plastic and can therefore be recycled and reused in something else “says Passmore. “That being said, we believe that the most environmentally friendly toy is one that does not reach the end of its life and therefore our toys are perfect for passing on.

“They’re durable, easy to clean, so you can throw them in the dishwasher, sterilize them and they’re ready for the next generation of kids. We’ve been around for 10 years and we’ve seen our products go through siblings for cousins ​​to neighbors and go on and on and always look brand new.”

To listen to the full interview with Erin Passmore of Green Toys, download our podcast or click the ‘Listen’ button at the top of this page.

About Lola C. Chapman

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