An icon with text "What's the future of the toy industry?" The logo for Earth Overshoot Day is in the top left corner and the logo for World Sustainable Toy Day is in the top right corner. There is a green border.

Earth Overshoot Day - What's the Future of the Toy Industry?

This article is the first in a series leading up to World Sustainable Toy Day 2023:
Towards a Carbon Neutral Toy Industry. Discussion prompts are at the bottom of the page, get together with your colleagues or friends and see what you think.
Download this blog and discussion questions.
Earth Overshoot Day Logo

Today* is Earth Overshoot Day. This is the day on which humans’ demand for ecological resources in a year has exceeded what the Earth can generate in that year. Earth Overshoot Day is different in each country depending on how much the citizens have consumed. Today, April 19th, is New Zealand’s Earth Overshoot Day. This means that if everyone on earth lived the way we do in NZ, where Sustained Fun is based, we would have already used up this year’s available resources and would need 1.7 earths to sustain our lifestyle. 

Country Earth Overshoot Day diagramme

Living two thirds of the year in environmental debt is an unsustainable situation that has caused a biodiversity and climate crisis. We’ve created and condoned an economic system that entrenches inequality, prioritises shareholder returns and doesn’t consider the finite resources on which we’re attempting to build an infinite growth system. The major cause of climate change is overconsumption and unchecked economic growth, which is making a few people rich at the expense of the environment and most of the population. This is a situation that is impossible and immoral to sustain. 

So what do we do? 

We have no other option but to reduce consumption but how do we reconcile that with working in a toy industry that’s based on selling as many products as possible?

We’re going to have to normalise a different way of doing business. A way that’s profitable for toy companies and retailers but keeps toys in circulation for longer and doesn’t encourage the production of toys with short lifespans. There are some examples that already exist:

Toy Libraries. Just like a book library, at a toy library you can borrow from a selection of quality toys. They aim to support families, encourage quality time spent playing with children and are environmentally friendly. The toy library that’s local to me charges an annual subscription of between NZ$48 and NZ$100 a year so they’re very affordable for families.

A 3 year old girl standing in the middle of a toy library. It is big shed filled with toys on shelves. She has her arms in the air.

Toy Subscription Boxes. A similar model is a toy subscription box like Toy Box Club in the UK. Families pay a subscription and every month a box of toys is sent out. At the end of the month they’re returned and cleaned ready to send to the next subscriber. The cost is higher than toy libraries at around NZ$800/year but there is the convenience of toys being sent directly to your door.

Both toy libraries and toy subscription boxes solve many of the over-consumption problems the toy industry faces. They normalise second-hand as acceptable and they promote more durable toys which discourages the production of products that break quickly. They solve the problem of not knowing if kids are going to like toys purchased for them and they save families money wasted on toys that will go unloved.

But toy libraries and toy subscription boxes make up a tiny fraction of the toys being purchased - how can we expand these concepts to become standard in the toy industry while still supporting toy companies to make a profit?

Here is a proposal for a new model for the toy industry that supports toy companies while protecting the environment. You might love it, you might hate it, you might have a better idea. Have a look and see what you think about this 'repair and resell' model...

  1. The toy company makes the toy. Toys are made to be good quality, durable and hard to break. Packaging is eco-friendly, made from recycled material and can be recycled at the end of its life.
  2. The toy is sold in toy shops as per usual. 
  3. The toy is played with and loved by a child until they no longer want it.
  4. Then the toy is returned to the toy company where it is cleaned and if necessary, repaired. 
  5. The toy is repackaged in new packaging. Making eco-friendly packaging is easier than making eco-friendly toys: it can be cardboard; made of recycled materials and can be made locally which reduces carbon emissions. 
  6. The toy is now sold again by the company, marked as pre-loved but looking as new or nearly new.

Protecting the environment is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s essential for our own survival. We can’t carry on with a situation where we are outstripping the earth’s resources ⅓ of the way through the year, every year. If we, as an industry, moved to a repair and resell model, there is still room for revenue but without the continual consumption and discarding of unwanted toys that we have now. It might seem like a radical change but this model already exists. In France Rejoué has collected 81 tonnes of games, toys and books! Just in 2021 they renovated 66,000 toys. Can we make this model the standard way of operating for the toy industry?

Discussion Questions

  • What date is Earth Overshoot Day in your country
  • How do you feel about this date?
  • Do you think the toy industry can or should change to a repair and resell model? Is it realistic or too radical?
  • If it's too radical - what are the barriers to the model, in general and for your company specifically?
  • What are some other ways the toy industry can reduce over-consumption of resources? How can we ensure that the toys we make are played with for longer? 
  • If you think a repair and resell model is realistic - how can you help make this happen?

How Sustained Fun works to #movethedate of Earth Overshoot Day

EcoSplat Reusable Water Balloons, made by Sustained Fun, are reusable with a long lifespan. Each one replaces over 3000 single-use water balloons, reducing the resources and carbon emissions required for manufacturing and shipping. Because families no longer need to continually buy water balloons for summer fun, EcoSplat promotes reuse culture.

How will you #movethedate?

World Sustainable Toy Day 2023: Towards a More Sustainable Toy Industry will be held on 17th November 2023. 

*Globally, Earth Overshoot Day is July 28th but it’s important to remember that there are 51 countries who do not have an overshoot day - they’re living below the earth’s carrying capacity because of poverty. 

 

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