There’s no two ways about it – toy collectors enjoy a precarious relationship with the environment. What amounts to little more than hunks of coloured plastic widens one’s carbon footprint exponentially. It’s something I’ve been grappling with these last few years, as my own collection of Star Wars dolls, figures and Lego grows ever larger.
I like to think of myself as environmentally conscious, though not exactly at the forefront of green living. I’m careful about what I use, how I use it and the potential impact any given product has on the planet. And yet, somehow, my collection seems to get a free pass. Rather than having to boycott this hobby, it’s the manufacturers and makers who need to instigate change for a better, greener world. So, is there really a way to be a green collector?
The global toy industry is a behemoth, with some statistics putting its net worth at around $88.8 billion. This comes amidst increasing competition from video games, smartphones and tablets, not to mention the ease of streaming services that continue to pacify kids from a younger age. Experts put the golden window of opportunity for toy makers targeting kids at around four to eight years old. These few fleeting years are the ages at which children will be most interested in and receptive to toys. After that, their interest wanders elsewhere.
To put that in wider economical context, in 2018 Lego posted its first profit loss in thirteen years. The company was forthright in admitting they simply made too much stock, perhaps in response to a demand they expected, but one which is steadily falling. As this blog can attest, kids are forever being born, and the next generation is always just around the corner. For toymakers, this presents a never-ending stream of opportunity to sell, sell, sell. But with the fragile state of our environment, the onus needs to fall on toy makers to do better. Fortunately, the industry is getting there, one baby step at a time.
As one of the biggest toy companies in the world, Lego can enable beneficial changes from the top down. The company has for years boxed their sets in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved cardboard. Now the challenge is greening up what’s inside. Though slow to start, the Danish brand is finally overhauling its supply chain, with news last year revealing that, for the first time, it will be making sustainable bricks.
Made from bio-plastics sourced from sugarcane, these bricks are a boon both to the world and for collectors like me who are eco-conscious but can’t help but fill their home with toys. These sustainable pieces – including leaves, bushes and trees – rolled out last year. The toy giant promises that by 2030, its core products will be made from sustainable sources. That means the only guilt one should feel in buying a new Lego set is the dent it’ll leave in your bank balance.
Along with Mattel and Fisher-Price, Hasbro (makers of the Forces of Destiny dolls and the Star Wars Black Series) is among the world’s most profitable toy companies. Like its competitors, the company has a sustainability strategy in place, one which it isn’t shy about showing off. Delving into some of its recent literature shows that 90 per cent of its paper and paperboard packaging comes from recycled materials or sustainably managed forests. It’s not lacking on the plastic front either, having eliminated PVC from its toy and game packaging in 2013. In its place the maker uses PET, which is most commonly found in plastic bottles, and is very easily recycled. Other efforts have seen Hasbro use smaller packages, less material and reducing label sizes, as well as creating a more sustainable supply chain from end to end.
Building further on its sustainability pledges, Hasbro last year partnered with TerraCycle for a new toy and game recycling pilot programme in the US. During the ‘Hasbro Toy Recycling’ pilot program, consumers were able to collect and send their Hasbro toys and games to TerraCycle who recycled them into materials used in the construction of play spaces, park benches and flower pots, among other things. It’s an approach that could well be scaled across the US and beyond, with other toy makers following suit.
This new eco-conscious direction the toy industry is taking does nothing to erase the environmental burden of existing products. I’m as enamoured by toys as the next person, but these chemically-laden plastic blobs don’t decompose, while many can’t even be recycled. Instead they choke our seas or clog up landfill sites. Though we’re slow to learn from past mistakes, the times are changing and a new dawn for the toy industry will soon be upon us.
For parents, this shift in attitudes presents a unique opportunity to educate kids about the environment and their own carbon footprints. Every toy you buy them becomes an excuse to talk about its potential impact, because these are conversations we should be having. If our kids are inheriting the earth, then they deserve to know the state it’s in, and the costs of their actions (or inaction).
For some helpful advice on buying toys, let me refer you to my guide to collecting on a budget, as many of the same tips – such as buying used and handmade – means you get the best of both worlds.