Four wooden toy iceblocks lying on a beige sheet. The text across the image reads "Reducing Carbon at Source". The logo for World Sustainable Toy Day is in the bottom right corner.

Reducing Carbon at Source

There’s a lot of talk by governments and business about how they are going to reduce their carbon emissions but the truth is we’re not doing anywhere near enough to keep the earth’s temperature in a range that is good for human (and animal) survival. Even with nations’ climate pledges and other mitigation measures we’re currently on track for a 2.7oC temperature rise by the end of the century. What this actually means is hard to visualise and even being told that this increase in temperature will lead to catastrophic changes to the earth’s climate doesn't really make it easier to understand the consequences. Here's an graph that makes it clearer:

An infographic showing the consequences of different increases in global temperature. Title is 'Degrees of Global Warming'

To have a liveable planet by keeping global warming below 1.5oC, the world needs to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years.

So we’d better stop talking and crack on!

The best way to reduce carbon emissions is to design out waste and carbon at the very beginning of a new product or activity. 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design phase. We need to design products in a way that reduces resource use and considers the impact and end-of-life of the materials used. This can be done by designing for durability, reuse or repair, and by choosing better materials.

Materials Fit for Purpose

Thinking about materials is the first step to reducing waste and carbon. Materials need to be fit for purpose - both for how the toy is used, and for the environment. Durable materials, like plastic, should only be used for the most durable toys - those that will get passed on and played with for many years. And we shouldn't be making any toys from virgin petroleum-based plastic. Fossil fuels are the cause of climate change and we need to quickly move to other materials: recycled plastic, bioplastic, wood, cardboard.

Working out the carbon emissions created by different materials is complicated. Luckily there is a tool that simplifies the process: the 2030 Calculator. Using this tool you can input the weight of your item, where it is made, how it is shipped and what it is made from. You can select if the materials are virgin or recycled and choose between different subcategories of materials. The 2030 calculator will then calculate the carbon footprint based on the emissions created from manufacturing and transport up until the point of sale. 

When considering materials, recycling needs to be thought of as the absolute last resort. Toys are extremely hard to recycle, generally because they are made up of multiple different materials, and because they are designed, for safety reasons, not to come apart easily. We need to acknowledge that toys are basically heading directly to landfill and design them so that they are kept in use for as long as possible, by as many users as possible and the end-of-life is as sustainable as possible.

The Arms Race of Box Size

Toys are so often packaged in boxes that are so much bigger than the product. Shelf space is at a premium in toy shops and we all want our products to stand out while customers feel they're getting better value for money with a bigger box. But making the boxes bigger and bigger increases the materials and carbon needed to make the packaging and to ship it around the world. Increasingly bigger toy packages also means that toy shops and warehouses need to get bigger in order to stock the same number of product lines. Bigger shops and warehouses use more land area, more building resources, more energy to heat and cool and light the building.

The first boxes we prototyped for EcoSplat were much bigger with a lot of empty space until we realised we were falling into the arms race of shelf space. Our final packaging design was a box that perfectly fits the product, reducing the carbon emissions and resources needed to get EcoSplat to customers.

Two boxes of EcoSplat reusable water balloons stacked on top of each other. There are 4 loose reusable water balloons next to the boxes, the colours are red, blue, green and yellow.

Other companies who are fighting the arms race:

A wooden toy car

Green Toys have significantly reduced the packaging on these cars.

Gibsons logo

 Gibsons have reduced the size of their puzzle boxes by 29%.

Shortening Supply Chains

The further and faster we transport goods the more carbon emissions are produced. 80% of toys are made in China and transported around the world. We need to think about how we can make changes in our supply chains to make them more sustainable.

The easiest way to do this is to use sea freight not air freight. Long haul flights emit 47 times more greenhouse gases than ocean freight per tonne per mile. However we do need to remember that shipping also has a negative effect on the environment. Ships tend to use low grade fuel which produces sulphur that contributes to ocean acidification, they emit pollutants directly into the ocean, shipping routes disrupt the migratory routes of whales and other marine life and they contribute to noise pollution in the ocean which disrupts marine mammals’ communication.

I know this isn't easy! The shorter we can make supply chains the better.

Working from New Zealand where our closest neighbour is 4000km away, shortening supply chains is a tricky problem. Despite this, we are always thinking if there are changes we can make to some aspect of our supply chain, or to shorten the supply chain for future toys.

In order to halve greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years we can no longer make little changes. We need to be considering our products’ environmental impact at the beginning of the design phase so we can make toys that provide long lasting fun without harming the planet.

Discussion Questions:

  • How do you feel about the graph showing the effects of an increase in global temperatures?
  • Do you think it's possible to keep warming under 1.5 degrees C?
  • If you don't think it's possible, it still needs to be done so how will we achieve the impossible?
  • Use the 2030 carbon calculator to work out the carbon footprint of materials used in your products. Can you switch to lower carbon materials, for existing products or for new products?
  • Can you think of ways to design out waste at the beginning of your products lives? (There are an increasing number of circular design courses available so sign up for one of these if you need help with this)
  • What is the minimum amount of packaging needed to provide information on, and protection of, the toys you make? Does the product even need a box? Can you get rid of the plastic window?
  • How long are your supply chains? What are the ways you can shorten these?

Share your thoughts and progress: #worldsustainabletoyday 

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




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