How Green Are Those Toys Under the Tree?

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While toy makers depend upon children to want their product, they also know that it’s the parents who have the final say in whether or not those toys make it under the tree on Christmas morning. As more parents are turning an eye to environmental concerns, toy makers are greening up their act, not only in the products they use to create toys, but in the policies they’re putting in place for manufacturing them. Knowing that their business is as much about gaining trust as it is about making toys, toy makers are taking some impressive steps to become more environmentally friendly.

Read on to learn more.

PVC Gets the Boot

The argument over PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is used in making such iconic toys as Barbie, GI Joe and My Little Pony, as well as in packaging for toys, has gone on for years. While the industry group The Vinyl Institute claims that it has been “used safely since the 1950s,” groups like Greenpeace have been campaigning against it for years, calling it “one of the most toxic substances saturating our planet and its inhabitants.” They add that PVC “contaminates humans and the environment throughout its life cycle: during its production, use and disposal.”

The concerns raised over PVC are enough for some toy manufacturers to eliminate — or at least more effectively manage — their use of the plastic. Although Mattel has, so far, declined to reduce its use of PVC, releasing a statement saying they have not found a suitable alternative plastic to replace it, both Hasbro and Lego are working to make their toys with less PVC or with other materials entirely.

In this area, Lego leads the league. The company has worked to eliminate PVC and phthalates from its toys for many years, and today none of its products contain either material. Hasbro has not yet committed to using an alternative form of plastic in its toys, although it did give PVC the heave-ho from new product packaging this year and says all packaging will be PVC-free by the year’s end.

More than 75 percent of the paper and cardboard packaging Hasbro used was made either from recycled materials or sourced from companies that practice sustainable forest management. The company says that by 2015, more than 90 percent of its paper and cardboard will come from recycled sources. Hasbro also made major strides by eliminating the plastic bags that previously held game instructions, and by swapping out paper labels on its Play-Doh cans for paperless labels printed directly on the can. By removing the plastic bags from games, the company kept some 800,000 pounds of plastic material out of its waste stream.

Breaking Ties

Another component that has added up to large amounts of waste in the toy industry is the nonrecyclable wire twist tie used in packaging. Hasbro eliminated the ties in 2010, and replaced them with ones made from paper rattan or bamboo. Mattel has also taken on the problem, eliminating about 90 percent (or 363 tons worth) of the ties and instead using paper strings, nylon fasteners, key-lock fasteners and die-cut paper board.

Mattel is also looking at ways to provide greener packaging options. After a fierce Greenpeace campaign two years ago, which noted the packaging for Barbie dolls was provided by a company that was linked to deforestation, Mattel unveiled a paper and wood-fiber sourcing policy that committed to sustainable  packaging policies. Their Hot Wheels factory in Malaysia now uses compostable residual sugarcane fiber for packaging. Mattel’s sustainability goals includes using recycled materials in at least 85 percent of its packaging by the end of 2015.

Leave No Trace

Companies are also looking at the effect their operations have on the world around them, and are making changes accordingly. Mattel reports that it has reduced its energy consumption by 33 percent, lowered its CO2 emissions by 38 percent and cut water consumption by 54 percent. More impressively, it has slashed VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions by nearly 70 percent and reduced both hazardous and nonhazardous waste generation, by 16 and 30 percent, respectively.

At Lego, they are recycling about 90 percent of the waste they generate and have announced a long-term goal of zero waste. This year, they introduced smaller boxes, which the company says can lower the CO2 impact of its packaging by about 10 percent. They predict the move will also reduce its annual consumption of cardboard by about 4,000 tons and, with the building of a wind farm on the coast of Germany, will be able to contribute as much energy as it consumes by 2020.

Hasbro also is taking steps to measure its climate footprint and reduce its impact on global warming, which led to being named the Toy Industry Reporting Leader by the Carbon Disclosure Project for the second year in a row.

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