This article is the fourth in a series leading up to World Sustainable Toy Day 2023: Towards a Carbon Neutral Toy Industry. Discussion prompts are at the bottom of the page, get together with your colleagues or friends and see what you think.
In April’s article we talked about a new resell and repair future for the toy industry to reduce the overproduction and consumption of toys while still allowing for a prosperous future - but one that doesn’t outstrip the earth’s resources.
The amount of goods we produce and consume has a direct effect on carbon emissions and climate change. 45% of global greenhouse gases comes from the production of everyday household items. The toy industry is no exception and we produce so much stuff children lose interest in 25% of their toys after just one week! We’re using the earth’s finite resources to make stuff we don’t even want - prioritising quantity over quality.
Think back to the year 2000…
Looking after the environment is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s essential for the future of both the toy industry and the children we’re making, selling and buying toys for. Those of us lucky enough to have the resources to spend money on toys need to get our consumption back so it’s within what the earth can sustain. It’s quite hard to visualize what this means - how far do we have to go back? It’s actually not that far. The global* ‘material footprint’ increased by 70% between 2000 and 2017. Can we go back to the lifestyles we had in 2000? That seems ok and is a good start but in the year 2000 Earth Overshoot Day was September 25th - still 3 months earlier than what is sustainable.
Or to 1970...
The time when we were, on average, living within the means of the earth was 1970. At this time Earth Overshoot day was December 25th. Should we go back to the levels of consumption of the 1970s?
One of the best ways we can reduce our consumption is to produce more high quality toys and fewer ‘throwaway’ ones. Here are 11 ways we can priortise quality toys over quantity and have a massive positive impact on the environment.
1. Don’t make, stock or buy toys that aren’t any fun.
Obviously what is fun varies for different kids, but arguably some toys aren’t any fun for anyone, or are fun for such a ridiculously short amount of time it equates to the same thing. The flimsy plastic rubbish that comes in party gift bags, Christmas crackers and cereal boxes are examples of these.
2. Halve the number of toys
It’s estimated that 300 million toys were sold in the UK in 2018. There are approximately 9 million kids aged 0-12 in the UK, that’s 33 toys per child per year. Do kids need this number of toys? What if we halved it? Would 16 good quality toys bring the same amount of joy?
3. Increase the lifespan
Think, when manufacturing, selling or purchasing toys ‘Is this toy of good enough quality that it can be passed on?’ Only 1% of the stuff we buy is still in use 6 months after its purchase meaning that using an item is just a brief stop between factory and landfill. What if we constantly considered how to increase the lifespan of every toy?
4. Increase the number of times a toy is used
In the fashion industry it’s estimated that if we double the length of time we use our clothes it would cut the garment industry’s climate pollution by half. The same is true for toys. Every object comes to you with a carbon emission price tag created from raw material extraction, manufacturing, packaging, shipping and storage. The more times an item is used the lower the cost per use. Can we include a “loved by…” section in toy packaging to encourage connection when the toy is passed on?
5. Increase the number of kids who use the toy
Extending the lifespan of a toy to include multiple children reduces the number of new toys we need to make and buy. Toy libraries, toy subscription services and op shops all increase the lifespan of toys.
6. Increase the quality of collectibles
Plastic collectibles that don’t do anything are way less fun and much worse for the environment. Let’s give them a secondary purpose. For example compare two of the supermarket New World’s collectible ranges. Little Garden are vegetable seeds in small grow pots. There’s plenty to collect and they are plastic free, provide an activity as well as value and fun after the collectible is opened. Compared to the instant rubbish created by ‘Little Shop’: tiny supermarket items made from small pieces of foam wrapped in plastic.
7. Match the durability of the material with the duration of play
- For collectibles the joy is in the collecting, not necessarily in keeping them for a long time. In this case the durability of the material needs to match the duration of play. Collectibles that are cards not figurines are much more suited to the purpose of the toy.
8. Choose reusable over single-use
For some disposable toys there’s a reusable alternative that provides more fun with no rubbish. Single-use water balloons create about 700 pieces of rubbish with every water fight, EcoSplat reusable water balloons create none - they can be used over and over again in a water fight and for years to come.
9. Change how we think about value
We’re so used to equating value with low price: ‘it was great value, it only cost $3.99!’. We need to start thinking about value as being equal to the duration of play, or the number of children who played with the toy: ‘it was great value, it was played with by 3 different children for 10 years’.
The earth only has finite resources and we need to live within those boundaries. We can no longer keep consuming as we do today - prioritisng quality over quantity is a good step towards a more carbon neutral future.
- Can you remember collectibles from your childhood? What were they made of?
- Do you think you could go back to the lifestyle you were living in the year 2000? What about 1970?
- How many toys did you have when you were a child? Which ones brought you the most joy? Were they good quality?
- Are you surprised how much carbon is released to produce 1 kg of plastic?
- Which of the 8 ways in which we could reduce consumption resonate with you?
- Which of the 8 ways would you like to implement in your organisation? How will you do this?
How Sustained Fun is Prioritising Quality over Quantity
EcoSplat Reusable Water Balloons are reusable, they are used many more times than single-use water balloons and they have a long lifespan. And they are more fun than single-use water balloons because you just dunk and throw them with no rubbish to pick up.
How will you Reduce Carbon by Prioritising Quality?
Share your thoughts and progress: #worldsustainabletoyday
World Sustainable Toy Day 2023: Towards a More Sustainable Toy Industry will be held on 17th November 2023. Get involved at www.worldsustainabletoyday.com
*While this article talks about global consumption, carbon emissions and material footprint, only countries living lifestyles that outstrip the earth’s resources need to reduce their consumption. Climate change is a problem caused by rich nations, not by the millions living in poverty.
Changing the World Toy by Toy. https://sonia-sanchez.com/toy-industry/