Sustainability In Toys: What Happens Next? Part 1, Plastic
COP 26 has been and gone. (Most) of the world’s leaders have agreed that urgent action is needed on environmental matters, not least of which is addressing CO2 output and global warming. While some of the solutions to global warming are beyond the ability of the toy business to resolve, there are clearly some actions we can all take which will help.
As we head towards another year it is perhaps a good time to take a look at where we are at on sustainability in the toy business. In the first article in this series we take a look at plastic:
Clearly the majority of toy products on sale are either mostly made from plastic or contain some plastic. Plastic being derived from oil and causing significant ocean pollution and other challenges has been very much in the public dialogue in recent years. Toy companies are increasingly aware of this. The low hanging fruit has been excess plastic in packaging, because plastic is cheap comparatively it has always been a large component of toy packaging (including the ties and fittings used to secure product during transit in pack). Much of that type of needless plastic has already been removed, but there is more still to do on that front. Solutions include clever packaging engineering to remove or at least reduce plastic usage, using sustainable materials such as cardboard and removing unnecessary shrink wrap on some products.
Looking forward, there is of course a potential long-term successor to plastic derived from plastic – that is ‘plastic’ produced from sustainable materials. This ‘bio-plastic’ is already available and being used by some companies in products. Lego has made large strides in this area, and is committed to going much, much further. In 2015 Lego announced a $150m investment in formulating a biobased alternative to oil-based plastic bricks, and their pledge is to switch all Lego bricks produced from 2030 onwards (that’s some 60 billion bricks p.a.!) to bio plastics.
Without getting too far into material science, we do know that there are some drawbacks with bioplastics, at least currently. Firstly, they are not proven to be as durable or to hold their shape as long as oil-based plastics, but perhaps that can be addressed with science/technological advancements over time. We also know that bio plastics are considerably more expensive – from talking to people in the business, we have heard costs to be c. 30% higher. At this stage it is not clear whether this is a price variance which can be reduced over time with volumes of scale, but it is clear that consumers are going to need to be willing to pay more for a greener product, and that retailers are going to need to support that also to get mass adoption of toys made from bio plastics.
We predict big change ahead in this space – plastic is so clearly in the environmental firing line, that bioplastics are an inevitability. As always, some companies will lead the charge, and others will lag, following far behind, but over the next decade we predict a mass transition from fossil fuel-based plastics to bio plastics in the toy business.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of this series of articles on Sustainability in toys.
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