Insights into the future of sustainable toys, and their benefits for the health of our environment and our children.
By Lena Milton
When we think about reducing plastic, we typically look at packaging, bottles, and other single-use household items. Those of us with children, however, know another major source of plastic: toys.
The toy industry is a massive multinational conglomerate, producing billions of toys worldwide, and is one of the most plastic-intensive industries in the world. As any parent knows, toys don’t last long and are quickly disposed of and replaced. Luckily, innovation in the toy industry is leading to more sustainable—and safe—toys for our children, and is reducing the harmful plastic production that our kids’ beloved toys produce.
The toy industry is a $90 billion industry that produces an average of 40 tons of plastic for every $1 million of revenue. Over 70% of the world’s toys are produced in China, where factories lack substantial environmental and ethical regulations, leading to extreme air pollution from chemical production, water pollution from chemical waste, and child labor.
Plastics fill up waterways and oceans when toys are discarded or lost, contributing to the rise in oceanic plastic pollution and microplastics when discarded toys break down. When we send old toys to the landfill, many go to incinerators, where plastics turn into hazardous air pollution and release toxic greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.
Not only do plastic toys cause severe amounts of global pollution, but they may pose a risk to our children as well. Many toys are made of phthalates, a chemical commonly used in plastic that’s known to cause hormone disruption, especially in children. Long-term exposure through skin contact and ingestion through sucking on toys can lead to severe health effects, including:
- Hormonal disruption
- Damage to kidneys, livers, and thyroids
- Respiratory issues and lung damage
- Developmental issues
With all the effects that plastics have on our children and our environment, it’s time to move away from traditional plastic toys. Luckily, innovation in the toy industry is leading to safe and sustainable toys that our children can enjoy without risk.
The toy industry is a rapidly expanding field with new products and designs coming out every day. With this new production, new materials are being explored. For example, LEGO has begun making bricks out of sugarcane plastic, a sustainably sourced, biodegradable material that leaves no long-term impacts on our planet, and has pledged to make all of their products out of sugarcane by 2030.
Companies around the world are following suit, with a growing number of toys made from sugarcane and other biodegradable materials, like bamboo, cotton, and hemp. These materials are also non-toxic, both to your kids and the Earth. More and more companies are investing in toy safety testing as well to ensure safety and sustainability in toys and identify areas of improvement in order to constantly grow sustainable innovation in the field.
While sugarcane-based plastic is growing in popularity, other companies are taking their innovation a step further. 3D-printing is on the rise in popularity and accessibility, with many toy companies using this method of production instead of the traditional assembly line. 3D-printing also allows for new exploration in materials, with new bioplastics made from sugar beets, potato starch, and cornflower.
Researchers have even identified methods of transforming food and industrial waste into safe, sustainable bioplastics. This material is still in development and is largely used for packaging and medical plastics, but the availability of new materials opens doors for sustainability in the toy industry.
The plastics industry is rapidly advancing as we move towards sustainability, and as bioplastics and renewable materials become more available, more sustainable toys will enter the market. Innovation in the toy industry brings our kids safer, greener toys that not only keep them away from harmful chemicals, but ensure a green future for them.