Time for toys to box clever?

The new Environment Secretary has singled out toys for criticism over what she says is excessive and environmentally unfriendly packaging. Is she right? Crazee Thingz MD, Danny Bamping, thinks she may have a point and maybe the toy industry needs to address the issue itself....
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Ever since I joined the toy industry around seven years ago; I have had a strange small fascination for packaging. Mainly I think because when we launched our product into the global toy market, it was one of the few products without any packaging at all.

I firmly believe it’s a good thing that this new coalition government has recently highlighted excessive consumer products packaging and in particular toys during its recent statement on part two of the Courtauld Commitment. They are likely to now extend the scope of the ‘CC’ to include retail packaging and certainly the toy industry is on its radar.

Caroline Spelman the new Environment Secretary openly criticised the toy industry after her own experience: "My teenage children are constantly bringing items home in thick packaging, polystyrene and cardboard, and it's really all about making the product attractive to buy rather than packaging it safely."

She also went on to say: "We are looking to encourage voluntary participation from Toy and Leisure manufacturers by incentivising their involvement."

One of the key challenges we face as a global society over the next decade or so is reducing the environmental impact of the things we buy. Indeed over the last few years food and drink, clothes and virtually every consumer product seems to have gone through a packaging revolution.

Some use their ‘less & sustainable’ packaging as a major marketing tool and why not? Surely that kind of marketing and message is the right one to be sending out, rather than producing products which fit into packaging 10 times their actual size.

If you consider the ‘total’ carbon footprint of what goes into manufacturing a toy product, distributing it, storing it, distributing it again, storing it again, a bit more distribution, then onto the shelf and finally sold to be taken home by its new owners. It’s all actually quite substantial when you add it all up. More worrying is that the majority of that journey is either ignored, or purely taken for granted; including even the packaging it comes in.

However, perhaps the true figures show that toy packaging needs improvement more in terms of user-friendliness, rather than the environment. When you consider that:

  • One fifth of ALL household waste is packaging; mainly from groceries, food and drink. Since the CC came into place in 2005 it has been quite successful in stopping ‘growth’ in packaging by some 500,000 tonnes during the last four years (until 2009).
  • In all, toy packaging accounts for around 5,000 tonnes per year – which actually only equates to about 0.3% of all packaging used, so even if we were to halve it – its doubtful if it would actually have a big impact.

Nowadays, packaging development involves considerations for sustainability, recycling and environmental responsibility and regulations.

There are, of course, pros and cons to this so called ‘large and unnecessary’ packaging;

On the pro side:
- It looks better and enhances the perspective and the products value
- It ‘may’ sell better – and be aimed at marketing the product whilst on the shelf
- It ‘may’ protect the product more.

But the cons are:
- Sends out an ‘image’ that the compan doesn’t care
- Eco-minded consumers may not buy it
- There is less product ‘per box, and less in a container.
- Less products on the shelf?

When I launched the Bedlam Cube (Now Crazee Cube) back in 2004, and before I appeared on Dragons Den with it a year later, I took a lot of inspiration and information by comparing it to the Rubik’s cube. This made sense to me – it was one of the best selling toys ever, it was a puzzle and it was a cube. Therefore I carefully looked at the way the Rubik’s cube was packaged before we decided what we would do with ours.

I found the results quite surprising; that initially (in the early 80’s) the packaging for Rubik’s was almost perfect (I’d bought an opened original one off eBay). It was small, it was user friendly, it looked good on the shelf – and apparently it sold quite well.

So more than 23 years on I was a bit surprised to see how it evolved into a box which was over 10 times the product size – and which was purely an advert; rather than something which was anything else to be honest.

Do you agree with Danny? Does the toy trade need to take a look at the amount of packaging it uses or is the industry being unfairly singled out? Email your thoughts to ronnie.dungan@intentmedia.co.uk

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