Will the Future of the Toy Industry be Plastic Free?

4 min

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. Across the globe, retailers and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of plastic and its negative impact on the environment and companies in the industry are taking note of this. Back in 2019, worldwide toy and game maker Hasbro announced that it planned to phase out plastic packaging on its products by 2022, in an attempt to reduce their environmental impact. They committed to this change and removed plastic window films from their packaging over the last three years, however, most recently have released another update on their actions. Hasbro have re-introduced window films on a selection of brands within their portfolio, utilising bio-PET or recycled PET to ensure they remain in line with their goals of minimising waste and impact on the environment.

Packaging is only one way the toy industry utilises plastic, but the whole process of producing and manufacturing toys, many of which are predominantly made with plastic causes issues with environmental impact and single use plastic.

As consumers continue to demand more environmentally friendly products, what challenges does this present toy companies and the toy industry overall?

Can the toy industry be truly plastic free?

Whilst plastic toys account for around 90% of the toy market, as most likely being the most plastic-intensive market across the globe. The British Toy and Hobby Association promote environmental sustainability, they support members in achieving best practice for sustainable products and packaging by providing guidance and advice across a range of environmental issues. With initiatives and goals in place to reduce packaging and product waste and the use of single plastic, members of the British Toy and Hobby Association are accountable for making steps forward with their business.

John Lewis saw an increase in wooden toy sales by 21% back in 2019, and the company committed to increasing its Christmas range and other seasons expecting to continue to see high demand for such toys consumers are making their feelings clear when it comes to reducing plastic. 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, two sisters from Hampshire started a petition to ban the free plastic toys included in children’s meals. As a result, in late 2019, Burger King UK announced it would stop giving away plastic toys saving 320 tonnes of plastic a year.  McDonalds also pledged to eliminate plastic toys from happy meals by 2025, exploring new approaches to utilise more sustainable options within happy meals.

Students across the world have been involved in strikes in recent years 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. Children are much more aware and concerned about their future and the impact of single use plastic, with groups now coming together to fight for positive change to reduce plastic pollution. The UK initiative, ‘Kids against plastic’ began back in 2016 and schemes are in place on a local and global level to both educate and take action to reduce the use of single use plastic.

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.

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 some time ago now and this is still relevant today. 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.

The US Retail Market

The retail recruitment team at CSG Talent are operating largely within the US retail market at the moment, with huge growth specifically within the US toy market. By 2027, the US toy market is expected to reach US$46.17 billion. With increased birth rates, and increased disposable income alongside high numbers of dual income households with both parents working, toy sales in the US are rapidly growing. With such demand for toys, we are seeing more and more businesses adapt their manufacturing and packaging processes to become more sustainable and conscious efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

While steps are being taken across the globe to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in the production and packaging of toys, 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, we would be interested in hearing more on the steps your business is taking to adapt to the consumer demand for environmentally friendly products, and what challenges you envisage your business will encounter. To share your insights, please get in touch with our expert team.

If you’re keen to explore a new career opportunity within the toy or retail industry, check out our latest job vacancies or explore our candidate services. For businesses keen to discuss current hiring challenges or recruitment needs, find out more about our executive search services or get in touch with our consumer packaged goods recruitment experts here.