A comparative and exploratory study of toy products in the circular economy

Watkins, Matthew Alan; Mestre, Ana

FG Transdisziplinäre Nachhaltigkeitsforschung in der Elektronik

This paper concerns relatively unexplored research concerning the environmental impact of children’s toys. This segment represents a challenge in the circular economy, a priority area concerned with the EU´s ambition of drastically reducing the use of petroleum-based plastics in Europe, along with the optimisation of waste as valuable resources for design. The paper discusses the methodological approaches used in an ongoing explorative study analysis of sixteen toy product cases through empirical research concerning the life cycle impact, and specifically, the end of life implications of children’s toys, focusing on eight distinct toy categories spanning an age range of six months to eight years old. A mixed methods approach was used, with three distinct stages: Individual component level life cycle analysis, the use of Circular Product Design assessment and improvement tools, and semi-structured interviews of three key stakeholders to evaluate the toys, complemented by the analysis of the economic depreciation of the toy’s value. Following this analysis, designers sought to improve the circularity of the products using one of four circular product design approaches, designing for: “slowing the loop”, “closing the loop”, “bio-based loop” or “bio-inspired loop” (Mestre & Cooper, 2017). The preliminary findings of the research show that higher value branded items significantly outperformed their less expensive counterparts in both the LCA and stakeholder research, due to higher value and their recognition in the second hand market leading to 2nd or 3rd lives, slowing the loop. Opportunities for improvement were identified to further improve toy circularity and close the loops through enhanced product attachment and circular business opportunities. Opportunities for bio-based solutions were also identified for lower value products, linking lower cost and shorter intended life to bio-based solutions, particularly in the craft and outdoor toys examples.