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Plastic-free where?

People are talking about toy plastic, and this is good.

But what we need to be talking about and aren't yet is toy miles.

>80% of toys come from Asia. There are two problems with this.

  • Firstly, manufacturing in developing countries tends to be more polluting to the environment, and higher-risk to our children. In 2011 Greenpeace found toxic metals like lead in 32% of Chinese-made toys.
  • Secondly, shipping from so far away emits lots more carbon.

Checking where toys are made, and how far those places are from here, is eye-opening. Let's take some brands whose toys look and feel eco-friendly:

  • Melissa and Doug is made in China;
  • Alphabet Jigsaws (Irish company) made in Sri Lanka);
  • Le Toy Van made in Indonesia;
  • Plan Toys made in Thailand;
  • Lanka Kade and Irish company Alphabet Jigsaws in Sri Lanka;
  • Djeco (Belgian company) made in Taiwan;
  • and the innovative, post-consumer-recycled-plastic Green Toys made in California (farther away than you might think!).

Each of these places is about 10,000km away, with the shipping distances much higher, e.g., a cargo ship from China travels 22,000km to Europe.

To absorb the CO2 emitted transporting plastic toys from far away, we'd need to plant about 80 million trees*. That adds another 10% to the trees we'd have to plant to absorb the CO2 making the plastic toys from petroleum.

In contrast, the UK is 500km, France/Germany/Spain 1,000km, and Eastern Europe 1,500km. In other words, European-made toys have about one-tenth to one-twentieth the toy-miles.

This is why we want all our toys *made* (not just designed) in Europe as well as plastic-free.


* How we estimated this:

  • The global toy industry uses 40 tons plastic per $1 million revenue (source: UNEP report 2014 “Valuing plastics”)
  • Global toy production is $90 billion (source: Statistica)
  • Shanghai to Dublin by sea is between 10,500 and 17,000 nautical miles depending on the route taken (source: Sea-Distances.org) - that's between 19,500km and 31,500km. Average of the 5 routes is 26,000km
  • Modern sea freight emits between 10g and 25g CO2 per tonne of freight per km of transportation (source: IPCC 2018 report). We use the higher estimate assuming low-value goods like toys don't get the newest, most efficient ships. Converting units gives 0.00025kg CO2 emitted shipping 1kg product over a 1km distance
  • (40 tons * 907kg per ton * $90 billion total revenue * 0.00025kg CO2 emitted shipping 1kg product over a 1km distance * 26,000km shipping distance) / (22kg absorbed per tree * per $1 million revenue) = 97 million trees

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