Spielwarenmesse: Sustainability a great opportunity for the toy industry

Choose language


Kinder spielen im Karton Schiff


Sustainability a great opportunity for the toy industry

from Maria Costa

Society is gaining a greater awareness of issues related to the environment such as climate change, isles of plastics, air pollution. The good news is that, on one side, governments are acting, for instance, implementing strategies to ban disposable plastic products, and on the other, companies as important as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever and H&M are committing to eliminate single-use non-recycled plastics in a few years. At the same time, parents are improving their understanding of the causes behind these problems, and they are looking for more long-lasting, earth-friendly products than ever.

As a very relevant trend for the toy industry, this article presents some interesting concepts related to sustainability that any toy company can apply to their product development and marketing strategies.

Materials that make a difference

The toy industry uses tons and tons of plastics every year. But for the next generation of parents, in general, “Plastic is not fantastic”. There are other materials that can be used instead.


Wooden star and duck hand rim.
[Translate to English:] Natur-Kollektion/ Saro

For instance, in the Spielwarenmesse we can always find wonderful examples of products made with wood. In fact, Europa has an extensive tradition related to wooden toys (Haba, Brio, and a long et cetera). From baby toys (e.g. Nature collection by Saro), to building toys (e.g. Wooden fire truck stacking toy by Sebra interior), or board games (e.g. Tower of fruits by Goula), this material combined with high-quality designs and illustrations provides the quality finishes many parents are looking for nowadays.


There are other materials that are also considered more environmentally friendly than plastic and are being increasingly used in toys. For years now, bamboo has been clearly chosen in the context of sustainable toys, companies such as Hape or Janod have used it in some of their best products.


Cardboard is another option, for example the Giant cardboard brick by EDO or Badala (a name derived from the Punjabi word for “transform”), a toy that allows children to convert cardboard boxes into cars or planes using stickers that are plastic free and ecofriendly. Another great example is the Petit World Map floor puzzle by Petit Collage that is made of sturdy recycled cardboard.

Giant cardboard brick/ EDO

Plant-based new materials

To get similar properties and finishes to plastic, there has been a great deal of innovation in the toy sector. Some well-known plastic based companies are looking into new options. For example, there are interesting toys already in the market manufactured using a plant-based material. That is the case of Viking Toys and its Ecoline Jumbo shape truck or the Swampies river raft, BiOBUDDi. Lego is also using a new plant based material made from sugar cane to include sustainable pieces in some of their boxes.

Biodegradable materials

Biodegradable materials such as the one PlayMais is made of, are also a great option.

Recycled plastic

Tide pool set
OceanBound Strandspielzeug-Set, Green Toys

Another possibility is the use of recycled plastic. In France, the company Clip it launched building sets manufactured with 90% recycling plastic from bottle caps to the market. In the United States, Green toys, apart from all their traditional products already made with recycled plastic, is presenting OceanBound Plastic Tide Pool Set this year. The main source of recycled plastic in this new product is collected from within 50km of waterways in global communities in the USA that lack waste-collection infrastructure.

Organic textiles

In the context of textiles, organic is the key word. Organic cotton is one of the most used materials to create environmentally friendly toys.

Non-toxic paints and dyes

And also very relevant to consider, for the use of paints and dyes the non-toxic factor is essential (e.g. Cuburo).

Transparent and respectful manufacturing process

Showing any part of your manufacturing process that is sustainable or respectful to the environment is a great strategy. Like Oli&Carol presents their process on their website where anyone can see the way their 100% Natural Rubber from Hevea Trees is obtained. In general, any sustainable measure should be promoted and emphasized.

Raising awareness with specific topics

No doubt another way to create eco-friendly toys and games is by using a related topic. Think about themes that are educational in a way that instills values and promotes awareness of specific issues that are impacting the environment. Obviously recycling is a big topic. For instance, Luke's Toy Factory and Bruder have launched toy trucks to play picking up recycling into the market. What can be Recycled? is a board game by Learning Kids for children to learn basic concepts related to recycling different materials and waste. Another interesting game is Viva montanya by Bioviva Editions, a cooperative game in which players have to deal with the rubbish that has been thrown into the snow by finding the animals hidden under the rubbish and putting the rubbish in the proper bins before the snow melts.

Collaborations with non-profits

Some games embrace real specific issues. Minecraft launched the Coral Crafters coral-rebuilding campaign in Mexico in time for June 2018’s World Ocean Day. The company asked players to design six sculptures for new coral to be grown on that would be built in real life. Some benefits of the game were donated The Nature Conservancy.  

Some non-profit organizations are actually realizing the importance and impact they can make on children by selling toys and games. In 2017, the international marine conservation nonprofit Sea Shepherd launched Pollutoys, stuffed animals that teach children about ocean pollution. Through their website people can donate to support marine life.

Pollutoys/ Sea Shepherd

This year, The World Wildlife Fund: WWF is launching Coral the Crab, a plush toy featured with the Pantone color of 2019 "Coral". With WWF Cub Club, the name of the line of wonderful toys, the organization pursues to create awareness for endangered species. 12% of wholesale sales are donated to support the conservation efforts of the WWF organization in the country where the product is acquired.

Toy companies are also implementing their own campaigns to help the planet. That is the case of Plantoys, a company that represents a great example for sustainability in many ways. With the materials they use, the topics they choose, and also their campaigns to improve the environment. In concrete, they have a program to restore forests and a foundation to foster environmental minds through several activities in libraries, parks, et cetera.

Eco-friendly toys are on the rise

Overall, eco-friendly toys respond to an increasingly important trend that represents a great opportunity for the toy industry. There are several ways you can implement strategies into your products and marketing campaigns. This way you will be able to achieve some kind of improvement in the sustainability of your business and become part of this phenomenon.

Expert knowledge, the newest trends and latest developments of the industry. Stay well-informed with the monthly visitor newsletter of Spielwarenmesse®: subscribe now


Author of this article:

Maria Costa, AIJU

Tags in this article:


Stay informed with trends and developments of the toy market. Register for one of our newsletter.



Stay informed with trends and developments of the toy market. Register for one of our newsletter.