When it comes to sustainable toys, the will is there, but many parents stagger when it comes to actually purchasing the products. They often find it confusing to differentiate sustainable toys from unsustainable ones! So, we got into a conversation with three sustainable toy brand owners - Anusha Thummala (Svecha Toys), Ganga (Chitrani), and Isha Gopal (Bloon Toys) and added in inputs taken from our Instagram community to understand what exactly a sustainable toy is and what are some guidelines you can follow while buying them to help make building a sustainable playroom for your kid easier!!
Let's first start by understanding:
What makes a Toy Sustainable?
Ganga From Chitrani answers it: “According to me a toy is sustainable when it is made using raw materials that are natural, and whenever this product is disposed off it will once again become a part of our earth. Another aspect of sustainable products is that they can be passed on from generation to generation.”
Now the question arises “How to identify a sustainable toy?” You can do so by asking yourself the following seven questions:
1. What is the Material of the Toy?
When choosing a toy, the first thing you should check is what is the material of the toy? Plastic toys are a big no-no, you can look for materials like wood, rubber, cloth, recycled paper, organic clay, etc.
How do I identify if the material is sustainable?
Isha helps us answer this question: “one consideration is what happens at the end of its life, like natural materials, they are biodegradable which means they don't lie on the planet forever”, so you can ask yourself- at the end of the toy’s life will it degrade and go back to the Earth? - If yes, then it’s most probably sustainable.
But I have a lot of plastic toys, shall I throw them away? - No, switching to sustainability is a great idea but that does not mean you should completely discard your previously owned toys (Remember blatant waste generation is also against sustainability!). You can use the toys until they wear out or donate them to the needy, and make sure that the next time you buy a toy you buy something that's sustainable.
2. What Are the Features of the Toy?
So, you have established that the material of the toy you are seeking to buy is sustainable, but what about the features? Three things you can look for are:
- What is the paint used? “Even if you use wood, it may or may not be sustainable, because if you are using harsh toxic colors or using paints which are furniture-based paints that will not be sustainable, it’s not safe for the child itself” explains Anusha.
- Does it have Batteries? Batteries while being produced generate a lot of toxic waste and their disposal is at most times not eco-friendly, not to mention batteries can cause a choking hazard for small kids. Always looks for toys that do not have the need for batteries.
- Does it require electricity to operate? Electronic toys require a lot of energy while being manufactured and, they are most of the time non-biodegradable, hence not sustainable.
3. Can You Use the Toy for a Long Period of Time?
Check the durability of the product, look at the make, the moving parts, and check how you feel is the quality of the product, if you think that the product you are holding in your hand can be gifted to the next kid in the family after being used by your child, then go ahead and make the purchase. You can identify a long-lasting toy by looking at the following:
- The make of the product: “You can make a wooden toy, but you might not be able to achieve the right finish” says Anusha, this will result in a low-quality toy that will not last long moreover, you might end up in you giving your child a toy with splinters which might end up hurting the child! Always look for toys that are high quality and sturdy.
- The moving parts: Always look for toys that do not have a lot of moving parts or assembling required as these toys can end up losing their usability once they lose a moving part. A toy that is one compact single piece is always the best option.
- Open-ended toys: Open-ended toys are toys that can be used in multiple ways according to the imagination of the child. Anusha gives the example of a simple wobble board - it can be used in at least 10-15 diverse ways! Your child can use it as a bridge, a hiding place, or a table, the options are endless, and your child's imagination can run wild! The best thing about an open-ended toy is that it grows with the child.
Toys that can be used for a long-time help reduce the amount of wastage generated and can also become an heirloom for the kids of the family! You can check out - Bloomy Brain Toys and Bloon Toys for some amazing high-quality products.
4. Can You Provide the Correct Storage Conditions for the Toy?
“The parent should also be able to judge if they can take care of the toy because ultimately you don't want to give your child something that you can’t maintain properly,” says Anusha. She gives the example of a wooden toy: if you buy a wooden toy and don't store it in the right conditions the toy might end up having mold and fungus, and then it can result in the toy being thrown out, creating unnecessary waste! If you don't have the right storage condition for a toy, then buying it will not be the best option for you!
5. Has the toy been produced locally?
Transporting a product from one place to another produces a lot of pollution increasing your carbon footprint drastically, hence while choosing to go sustainable you should also choose to go local. Search for businesses that operate around your vicinity to reduce pollution, in doing so you may also end up supporting a small business or a local artisan!
6. Is the Brand Sustainable?
When buying from Brands, you should check the credibility of the brand, a good brand that practices sustainability will have-
- An eco-friendly manufacturing practice- Their production units will be designed in a way to produce minimal waste and promote sustainability. ” All their processes would also need to be sustainable processes in terms of labor and that they are not exhausting the resources that they are using” adds Isha.
- Prominent wording - a sustainable brand will love to talk about it! The brand will be vocal about its support for sustainability on its websites, blogs, and social media handles. A quick scroll through the values of the brand mentioned on their website will help in establishing the ethos of the brand. A good example of this can be Nesta Toys.
- Certifications- While there aren’t any Indian certifications that specifically certify if a toy brand is sustainable, there exists a certification for recognizing if the raw material used has been obtained sustainably. The two materials you can identify are:
Wooden toys: For wooden toys, we have the FSC Certification. “They (the FSC) identify places where the wood is harvested in a sustainable manner, so any kind of wood that is FSC certified is also sustainable” quotes Ganga.
Textile-based toys: For toys made from organic fibers we have the GOTS Certification, which helps identify the organic status of textiles and ensures socially responsible manufacturing.
- Packaging- “Whenever you are looking for a sustainable toy you should always look for the kind of packaging material used with those toys.” says Ganga. A brand that follows sustainability in its materials sourcing, and production practices but ends up packaging it in plastic is something that you should stay away from because at the end of the day the plastic will end up in landfills adding to the pollution.
7. Does it Support Local Artisans?
A brand that supports local artisans is hard to come by but when you find one you should never let it go! By combining the skills of local artists with eco-friendly materials, you gift your child a sustainable childhood!
“Plastic toys are made using a moulding machine, so the machines can give the output of thousands or lakhs of units in a single day because the mould does it for them, but that is not the case with wood. We have to carve the toy out of wood, so every toy is handmade! This is a sustainable approach to the economy as well because we are supporting small businesses and not an industrial mass-produced product” explains Ganga
Recognizing a sustainable toy from among all the options available can be confusing but we have made it a bit easier for you! Just remember to look for sustainable materials, long-lasting make, eco-friendly brands, and local production. Even though the first step can be confusing, take it! As Anusha puts it:” Going completely plastic-free is a choice. A parent who wished to reduce screen time for his child might buy a plastic toy that speaks out the alphabet. It's not all black or white, the choices are often grey and rooted in what is best for your child.”