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Mainstreaming eco

"We don't need a handful of retailers 'doing' sustainability perfectly. We need every retailer doing it imperfectly.” -- Me

We need eco to go mainstream

Where we need to get to:

  1. Zero carbon emissions from new toys
  2. Zero toys to landfill
  3. Fewer new toys produced thanks to more reuse

There's no way we can get there with only niche toy retailers working sustainably.

We need every major toy retailer to be mostly full of sustainable toys. That's eco as the new normal. That's eco gone 'mainstream'.

It's not, yet

We are nowhere close to that yet, unfortunately*:

  • 90% of new toys are made from petroleum (virgin plastic) - emitting 6 times their own weight in CO2, mostly not recyclable and ending in landfill;
  • 80% of toys travel 22,000km of 'toy miles' to us from China, adding another 20% to their carbon footprint;
  • We've compiled a map of Ireland's toy libraries. It is pretty empty, with just 1 (newly-opened) general toy library; 3 toy libraries you can only use if you're referred by a professional for a child with special needs; and 1 toy retailer offering rentals and selling curated pre-loved (us!).
  • But good exchange of pre-loved toys does happen via charity shops (including online at www.Thriftify.ie), on www.Adverts.ie, and on Facebook (Preloved Toys Ireland - Imagine, Create, Build). 

But there is heartening news

So it's very heartening to see Selfridge's new sustainable toy lines as part of Project Earth. A large retailer like Selfridge's will typically prefer brands with a large range. They don't want 20 brands with 5 product each; they want 5 brands with 20 products each. They've chosen the most sustainable lines that fit that description - many of which we spotted and told you about at the London Toy Fair 2020:

  • Keel Toys's new eco line - made in China from recycled plastic;
  • Clementoni's new eco line (Play for Future) - made in Italy from recycled cardboard and recycled plastic - we love this one;
  • Le Toy Van handmade wooden toys - made far away so still a significant carbon footprint - but not bad!
  • Green Toys made in California from recycled plastic - we prefer the European-made bioplastic equivalent DanToy (which we stock) - but again, not bad!
  • Carioca stationery made in Italy from recycled plastic - we like this one!

Selfridges speaks to a huge audience - they have 1 million followers on Instagram alone. And what the very high-end retailers do, the rest tend to follow. So I'm hopeful this is the start of a C-change in what the toystores used by most people look like.

Mainstreaming can happen quickly

As recently as 2015, it was difficult to find a biodegradable toothbrush. I'd walk into any pharmacy I passed, smile and ask for one. I'd usually be met with a blank look and, "What?". They weren't in supermarkets. You had to go to select health food stores, or online eco retailers, to get one.

Now Colgate has its own bamboo toothbrush. Biodegradable toothbrushes are stocked by Boots, by McCauley's Chemists, by Super Valu, and I'm sure by other 'mainstream' retailers. So suddenly, it's not hard to get one, it's easy.

That's a dramatic change in under 5 years.

I met a senior buyer for McCauley's who said, "We need biodegradable products because our customers are asking for them."

Some day the senior buyers at Smyths Toys will say the same. It might happen more quickly than we think. [Let's all keep asking for them!]

Share what you know and what you think

Have you seen some nice examples of eco going mainstream?

How do you think we can make it happen sooner?

Let us know in the comments below!


* For sources, see here

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