Will the Future of the Toy Industry be Plastic Free?

7 min read

By Yasmin Bryant

Manager - Consumer

Anyone who has ever bought toys will be aware of the amount of packaging that comes with them, a lot of which will contain unrecyclable plastic. Consumers are becoming more aware of plastic and its negative impact on the environment and companies in the industry are taking note of this. Just last month, worldwide toy and game maker Hasbro announced that it plans to phase out plastic packaging on its products by 2022, a move that will delight families committed to protecting the environment.

Packaging is only one way the toy industry utilises plastic, with many toys being made of the material. Whilst Hasbro’s announcement represents a significant step for reducing single-use plastic, this made me think about the long-term future of plastic in the toy industry. As consumers continue to demand more environmentally friendly products, what challenges does this present toy companies?

Can the toy industry be truly plastic free?

Whilst plastic toys account for around 90% of the toy market, consumers are making their feelings clear when it comes to reducing plastic. John Lewis has seen an increase in wooden toy sales by 21% this year, and the company has increased its range for this Christmas as it expects to see high demand for such toys. Christmas is a key time for the toy industry and in a recent poll 40% of parents said they would prefer people to buy their children toys made from a material such as sustainable wood.

Children are also making a stand themselves against plastic toys. Earlier this year, two sisters from Hampshire started a petition to ban the free plastic toys included in children’s meals. As a result, this month Burger King UK has announced it will stop giving away plastic toys saving 320 tonnes of plastic a year.  Also this month, students across the world have been striking from school to take part in global climate protests demonstrating their commitment to the environment. It is inspiring to see children of such a young age taking a positive step to tackle these issues and this could soon be mirrored in the toys they ask for.

Whilst it’s clear the consumer demand for sustainable toys is there, asking the industry to go plastic free overnight is a tall order. For many toymakers, including Lego, replacing plastic with a sustainable material, like wood, isn’t an option due to the product ranges they sell. Recycled plastics would be a more suitable option but according to the British Toy and Hobby Association, replacing all plastics with recycled plastics is difficult: “Recycled plastics are rarely able to be used in the process of manufacturing toys due to the uncertainty of the chemical composition of recycled plastic…It could contain one of the thousands of chemicals restricted under toy safety legislation.” Lego has recently opted for plastic sourced from sugarcane for the leaves, bushes and trees in its Lego sets, which is recyclable but not biodegradable. The company has pledged to use sustainable materials in its packaging and products by 2030 and to help facilitate this it has a centre purely focused on developing new sustainable raw materials that are safe for toys.

The urgency for toy manufacturers to find a solution to plastic is impacted by government pressure to go plastic free. In 2021 Costa Rica will be the first country in the world to go completely plastic free and carbon free, as the country seeks to protect its biodiversity, which is the country’s strongest asset. How soon will it be until other countries follow in Costa Rica’s footsteps? For Lego, 2021 is 9 years to early and for Hasbro it will be a year before they have completed work on their packaging and much of the company’s product range will still be plastic at this time. If toy manufacturers want to continue trading globally, it is likely more investment and resources are going to have to be put into amending current product lines or developing new sustainable product ranges.

How does this impact a company’s ability to attract and retain employees?

From an employment perspective, we are finding more and more senior-level candidates are looking to work for companies that align with their moral compass and ethical views. We wrote about how plastic production has an impact on employer branding earlier this year. Many candidates are not looking for a business to be entirely environmentally friendly. Instead, they are looking for a business to take its responsibility to the environment seriously and be already investing in the innovation needed. The changes toy manufacturers are taking should enhance a business’ employer brand and leave them in a better position to attract the best employees. In terms of investment in people, research and product development teams are likely to grow as businesses in this sector continue to address the environmental impact of their products.

It is unlikely that the toy industry will be plastic free for quite some time, but it is encouraging to see companies taking the steps they need to address environmental concerns. If you operate in the toy industry, I would be interested to hear how your business is adapting to the consumer demand for environmentally friendly products, and what challenges you envisage your business will encounter – please contact me at yasmin.bryant@csgtalent.com.

 

References

Plastic News, Simon Says No More Plastic Packaging at Hasbro

Forbes, Hasbro Says it's Game Over for Plastic Packaging

BBC News, Plastic Toys: Is it Time We Cut Back?

BBC News, Lego Goes Green with Sugarcane-Based Plastic

BBC News, Burger King Ditches Free Toys and Will 'Melt' Old Ones

The Sun, Millions to go Plastic Free This Christmas

Huffington Post, There's a Huge Problem with Kid's Toys That No One's Talking About

The Mirror, John Lewis Unveil Top Toy Predictions for Christmas 2019

Nation of Change, Costa Rica to Become First Country in World That's Both Plastic and Carbon-free

The Guardian, Global Climate Strike: How You Can Get Involved

The Independent, 'Sustainable' Lego: Why Plastics From Plants Won't Solve the Pollution Crisis

Heart, Lego Announces Plans to Stop Making Plastic Blocks by 2030