ASTRA Trade Show Report: Toys and Recycling

Published by: John Nephew

Earlier this week, Michelle and I attended the ASTRA trade show (American Specialty Toy Retailer Association) in Columbus, Ohio. It gave us a chance to show off games like Magical Kitties Save the Day to new markets, learn a bunch, and make connections in a parallel industry.

Recycling and sustainability were hot topics at the show, and of special interest to us with our Replay Workshop efforts. A manufacturer in our aisle told me that literally every retailer who spoke with them asked if their plastic was recycled (it is not...yet; I'm going to try and get them the connections to make it happen). Another exhibitor observed that everyone seemed to be talking about recycled products this year, to a degree never seen before.

Top concerns when I talked with other vendors about recycling were safety testing and the quality/consistency/characteristics of recycled material; and of course cost. These are all fair concerns but it's been proven that they can often be addressed. In some cases, regulations need to be updated -- only recently has it been permitted in US rules for the batting inside stuffed toys to made of recycled material rather than 100% virgin, for example. I spoke with a testing laboratory that specializes in the toy industry and walked away with a clear idea of how to satisfy the requirements (affordably even!) to make children's products from plastic that we recycle ourselves.

Some toy manufacturers I noticed who are leading in this space:

  • Shore Buddies is making plush toys/stuffed animals from 100% recycled polyester (thread/cloth and batting spun from recycled PET bottles). (Website seems to have an issue right now, but you can find their products in other online stores)
  • Green Toys is making 100% recycled products in the USA:
  • Vikingtoys is based in Sweden, and is manufacturing 100% recycled plastic toys in Vietnam:

Toy companies worldwide are stepping up to demonstrate that safe, affordable, quality toys can be made with recycled materials. It can be done, and consumers should demand it for the sake of our kids and their future.

Is it weird that I'm plugging other companies? We at Atlas Games really are concerned about the environment, and we know that massive, global change is needed to mitigate the damage already here due to pollution and climate change.

YOU CAN HELP! If you are buying anything made of plastic, ask if it's recycled; and if not, why not? In most cases it could be. You might be given an explanation for why it's not viable for a specific item. That may be true, or it may be outdated information. You might annoy the merchant, you might not get a satisfying response, but just asking is important. The weight of questions will push its way up the supply chain, as we witnessed at this show. Manufacturers will first recognize the use of recycled material as a competitive advantage to distinguish themselves (as some do now). Eventually it will just be expected. (I can go around pointing at products that absolutely could be made of up to 100% recycled with no difference in quality and possibly no difference in cost, except the effort it takes to learn about the options and make the change.) Growth in demand for recycled material will alter the way recycling is handled at our very curbs. Incredible volumes of perfectly recyclable plastic goes to landfill or incineration because the recycled plastic markets are well enough satisfied with the low hanging fruit of what comes from the large existing plastic recycling streams, such as post-industrial scrap, soda bottles, and milk jugs.

You've no doubt read the recent articles and reports about the failure of plastics recycling to date, or the impossibility of plastics recycling. We absolutely need to reduce our dependence on plastics, especially those derived from fossil fuels. But don't give in to the despair! Demand more, knowing that change is possible, the pieces are there to be waiting to be assembled. We need the pressure of consumer demand to overcome the inertia that keeps a lot of firms just doing what they've always done even if a change might literally cost them nothing.

Will we save our planet? I don't honestly know. I am sure we will fail if we don't even try. Please join us.

-John Nephew
President, Atlas Games


Behind the Scenes Replay Recycling Trade Shows Magical Kitties Save the Day