Driving SusTOYnability – bio!Toy conference makes waves

More than 110 participants from 18 countries met from 21 till 22 March in Nuremberg (and online) for two days to report on success stories and developments in the realm of sustainable plastics and the toys made from them.


For the first time, the political framework conditions and goals were also discussed. All agreed on one point: there is a need for action in view of the short time frame to stop climate change from reaching catastrophic dimensions. The range of climate-friendly solutions is growing, and toy manufacturers are getting more and more involved.

No other event combines recent developments of sustainable material solutions and the tasks that still lie ahead more comprehensively, right from the cutting edge of technology and current practices. More than 25 companies presented their solutions and goals for replacing fossil materials with biobased and/or recycled raw materials. A good two-thirds of the presentations focused on corresponding material offers and their implementation in toys, including leading companies such as Lego (Billund, Denmark) and Braskem (São Paulo, Brazil). 


But the scope went further than simply discussing which sustainable materials are available or already in use – the need for certification in connection with digital, blockchain-based, traceability was brought up. There were discussions on land use, 1st vs 2nd & 3rd generation feedstocks, and whether such arguments even make sense looking at the bigger picture. After all, the biggest threat to agricultural land use is climate change itself. Harald Kaeb, Sustainability consultant and Co-organizer of the event, also chimed in on the topic of land-use. “This discussion has been annoying me for over 20 years. (…) What do you think is the biggest threat – the few hectares used for biobased PE, or climate change itself? (…) You can ask these questions a hundred times and you would always be wrong when you post such questions”. 

One fact crystalized from the discussions, good communication to end consumers is as important as it is difficult, but end consumers play a key role for the necessary market pull. Søren Kristiansen, Senior Director of Technology at The Lego Group commented, “I think communication is much more complicated than finding a new polymer. The basic rule is: say what you do. Without using too fancy words while being as concrete as possible”.


The political dimension was part of the event for the first time. After an introductory presentation by Maarit Nyman from the EU Commission DG Grow, industry representatives from the toy industry and the plastics supplying industry discussed the current status and the necessary next steps. All agreed that sustainability is not a trendy topic but must be the future foundation of both industries. While the toy industry is still very much focused on the topic of toy safety, the plastics industry has meanwhile shifted its focus very strongly to the circular economy and alternative non-fossil raw material sources. 

Alexander Kronimus, Managing Director for Sustainability at Plastics Europe Germany, was very pleased with the great interest shown by the toy industry and extended an invitation for joint talks welcoming representatives of both industries, associations, academics, and policymakers to work together to formulate the most pressing needs of the industry as well as potential approaches on how to satisfy them. Cooperation is the key – a core message from the podium and the audience. “Safety and sustainability are two sides of the same coin”, was also said, and further: “Sustainability creates the preconditions for children's safety and will be decisive for their quality of life”. 

There is also hope that future legislations and regulations will help in accelerating the move to more sustainable and away from fossil resources, but it won’t be easy as Maarit explained, “We know that there is a need for a level playing field. We know that the fossil-based industries have an advantage over biobased industries and biobased materials. There is a question of what kind of tools, what kind of policies and what kind of mix is optimal – that is a tricky question”.


The presentations by company owners were also particularly impressive, as they put their motivation in a nutshell. Both Ulrich Betzold from the full-range retailer Betzold (Ellwangen, Germany) that started its own production and Filippo Gallizia, CEO of the toy manufacturer Geomag (Novazzano, Switzerland), had recently made far-reaching decisions to significantly convert the companies and the toy range to sustainable materials. “We cannot be educational without being sustainable”, Filippo said in his presentation and added, “sustainability means the reduction of emissions – all the rest is bla-bla, it’s nothing”.

One credo was, “we have to offer solutions to our customers now, we can't wait for the holy grail”. But the discussions did not shy away from tough realities such as material prices, “consumers are willing to willing to pay “some” of the extra costs (10 % to be exact, according to Betzold). We have to absorb the additional costs to a large extent, and for a while, we will need to get used to the idea that we shouldn’t aim to make more profit with these new products”. Whether in far-reaching or in smaller steps: the bio!TOY Conference creates comprehensive knowledge and inspires the participants to find concrete solutions through the exchange of ideas and cooperation. A more comprehensive review will be available in the next issue of bioplastics Magazine (online available on the 3rd of April, 2023).