The Plastic Problem; A Modest Suggestion

The challenge we confront is not with plastic per se but the quality of the toys in which the plastic is used.


There has been much discussion about the challenges of petroleum-based plastics. Whether it is their carbon footprint or the megatons of microplastic found in the oceans, parents and children are expressing fear and anger and a good deal of angst about the inevitable migration of plastic in toys from playroom floors into the environment.

Here is a quote by Associated Press writer, Gillian Flaccus in her article "Scientists gather to study risk from microplastic pollution": "Tiny bits of broken-down plastic smaller than a fraction of a grain of rice are turning up everywhere in oceans, from the water to the guts of fish and the poop of sea otters and giant killer whales."

I have written earlier about the two girls in the United Kingdom who received, in two weeks, over one-half million signatures on their petition to end plastic in children's fast-food meals. As a result, Burger King ended the use of plastic toys in the UK, and McDonald's cut back on the practice. I think we in the toy industry, as well, are going to experience a growing pressure to do something about plastic toys.

We in the toy industry are talking a lot about eco-plastic as a solution. It is a material made from vegetable matter that will decompose naturally. We also talk about a return to more natural materials like wood. These are sound ideas, but eco plastic as a viable material is still a work in progress, and wood does not provide a variety of shapes and textures that plastic does.

Here is what I think. The challenge we confront is not with plastic per se but the quality of the toys in which the plastic is used. An inexpensive plastic toy, what I call a landfill toy, quickly migrates from the home to the trash dump. A high quality plastic toy, what I call a legacy toy, stays in the house as it is passed down from sibling to sibling and generation to generation.

We can, therefore, cut down on the amount of plastic in the ecosystem by creating toys people do not want to throw away. Yes, these types of toys cost more but constitute an investment for parents and caregivers rather than a cost.

People who buy toys as an investment in their children spend time planning the purchase. They do research just as they do when purchasing a new air fryer or a laptop. They think about how long the product will last and what benefits the family will derive in terms of enhanced intellectual, motor skills and joy over years and decades

My solution is for the toy industry is, therefore, fourfold:

  1. Market toys as an investment rather than a purchase.
  2. Market higher quality toys, which because they stay in the home for more extended periods, reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.
  3. Move away from thinking of a hot price point as a way to drive an impulse purchase and towards thinking of it as a way to provide conspicuous investment value.
  4. Create and market toys that may sell fewer units but at higher prices, driving a higher top and bottom line.

What do you think?


One thought

  1. Hi Richard,
    we think alike! Your 4 takeaways are exactly the vectors that I was drifting in with the marketing of my new brand, word for word.
    Love the term “legacy toy”!
    The future-proofed toys, able to withstand couple of generations, are requested by modern parents looking to curb cheap plastic usage. But how do you shift? Can we somehow ban “landfill plastic” stuff?

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