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Playtime going 'green' as toy giants clean up their act

LEGO is looking to build its sustainability credentials further, after achieving an 11.5 per cent reduction in energy use since 2013. 

It's a story of triumph over adversity – or at very least decidedly unpromising beginnings. Setting itself a 10 per cent target three years ago, it only managed 0.4 per cent in 2014, but managed to turn things around. It is now focusing on increasing the amount of renewables in its energy mix. 

Clean energy, brick by brick

We're talking some serious investment here, with the company putting money into the expansion of the Burbo Bank wind farm off the Merseyside coast, to increase generating capacity by 250MW. It also owns a significant share of the Borkum Riffgrund 1 in the waters of the Netherlands. 

All this renewable investment by the famous construction set makers does lead to the question: are there LEGO wind turbine sets available? The answer of course, is yes, and yes

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Kicking the plastic addiction

Energy use is far from being the only part of the toy manufacturing industry where some long-term sustainable thinking needs to be applied. The toy industry is one of the most intensive of all when it comes to its use of plastic.  

But there is some progress being made. Finding non petroleum-based alternatives is the aim, and there are a number of possible options currently available, including bio-polymers, natural fibres mixed with recycled plastic, and entirely biodegradable plastics. 

Some early-adopting toy companies are already finding these materials work for them, but for those with huge global profiles, the task can be trickier.  

Such alternatives are under continuous development, and to that end, LEGO is pumping millions into finding sustainable materials that work well for its products by 2030. Crucially, it is looking for its product to look and feel no different, which is why it's dug deep into research and development funds and employed 100 staff to get the search under way in earnest. 

Playing nicer in Thailand

But while the biggest firms like LEGO tend to hog the headlines, others are making big strides towards sustainability without making too much noise about it. PlanToys in Thailand have built a toy business out of plant products – quite literally. 

Sustainably-sourcing wood from rubber trees after they're done producing latex products, the wood is dried without chemicals, dyed with water-based colours, and used to create a range of durable toys such as its best-selling dancing alligator. Even the packaging is made from recyclable cardboard, and printing done using soy. 

That's not all. The factory is powered entirely by solar PV, there's a biomass power plant for waste products, it's reforesting degraded land, and commissioned a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on all its product range. The aforementioned alligator, as it happens, turned out to be carbon negative.  

While it might be easier to quickly effect such direct sustainable approaches in smaller firms with more modest distribution networks, it's also arguable that the bigger budgets of multinationals could be channeled in a greener direction to huge effect. 

There's certainly much food for thought, as those that bring joy to children aim to do a lot more for the wider world. 

Do you know of any other toy companies that strive to use sustainable materials? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or tweet @EnergySvgTrust.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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Community Playthings have a great approach to ethical toys for nurseries and schools etc. Their toys really do stand the test of time and provide for rich open ended play.

Excellent start - our plastic addiction has become a plastic nightmare, thanks for getting this ball rolling.