The Better Toy Store: Encouraging Sustainable Play One Brand At A Time

Earth Day might be over, but at The Better Toy Store, we believe that environmental responsibility remains a continuous and conscious daily effort. For us, this means promoting play that is safe not just for our children, but for our environment too – which is why everything we do is geared towards making sure that the products we put on our shelves are not just safe and fun for our children, but also functional and long-lasting. Good quality toys that are designed with a strong purpose are often durable, possess better play value, and can be passed down from one child to the next, significantly minimizing wastage in the long run.

This week, we cover five of our favourite eco-friendly toy brands, all of which have far surpassed the very stringent European toy safety standards (EN71) – and many that have even gone on to achieve accredited environmental management certifications. Whether it is through recycling and reusing, continuous innovation, educating the community, or producing heirloom toys that last generations, all these brands share one common single goal: a commitment to build a healthier world.

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1. PLAN TOYS
Plan Toys is living testament that it is possible to maintain imagination, play value, and superior quality standards – all while steadfastly following a path of environmental and social responsibility. By constantly pushing boundaries in its innovation processes, the much-loved toy company admirably passes on the spirit of Sustainable Play through its ideas, culture, design process, and various methods of Reducing, Reusing & Recycling – resulting in meticulously designed toys that are not just  interactive, fun, and flexible; but also responsive to the developmental needs and circumstances of our children and the environment.

PlanToys implements best practices that far exceeds the toy industry standards and takes the art of toy making to the next level. It is famously known as the first company in the world to manufacture wooden toys from preservative-free rubberwood; and today, still manufactures toys from natural rubber wood trees that no longer produce latex. To keep the wood pure, no fertilizer is added to the soil three years prior to its usage; and the wood is further strengthened using a chemical-free kiln-drying process after the trees are cut. All Plan toys are also assembled using a certified E-zero formaldehyde-free glue in place of traditional wood glue, and are coloured using only non-toxic, water-based dyes and organic colourants.

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Why We Love PlanToys:
– All Plan toys are coloured using non-toxic water-based dyes – meaning that these toys are not just safe for playing, most of the time, they’re pretty much safe for chewing on/teething too!

– Not only did PlanToys invent their own E-zero formaldehyde-free glue, they also found a way to reuse the tonnes of wood waste resulting from their daily manufacturing activities. In 2011, PlanToys came up with PlanWood, a composite material made from sawdust. Because of the high amounts of pressure used during the manufacturing process of this material, PlanWood toys actually come out stronger than normal rubber wood, and requires less than 1% glue!

– PlanToys is a Carbon-Neutral company! This means that they plant back trees every year to absorb the carbon dioxide released during manufacturing. This works out to about 9,000  new trees every year!

– PlanToys’ social and environmental responsibility is almost unparalleled. From reforestation programs to toy museums and community projects, Plan constantly keeps up with new efforts to involve themselves in a world beyond their own.

HABA
2. HABA
The HABA name in the toy industry has long been synonymous with quality, product reliability, and environmental sustainability. They were the first toy makers in Germany to pass the ecological audit, and have since been granted the ISO14001 certification for environmental management. The brand guarantees a careful selection and processing of all materials used for manufacturing- and while wood isn’t an exclusive material for production, whatever alternative used is always biologically degradable or derived from renewable raw materials. To finish it off, only environmentally friendly, water-based paints and finishes are utilized, with packaging made only from recycled or recyclable materials.

Few toy brands in this world have this accolade to their name, but all of HABA’s materials- from its polyester stuffing to its fabric- are also OEKO-TEX®-certified. This industry benchmark is a green tick for products and companies who pass test parameters set on textile safety for both humans and the environment (which includes the examination of the environmental impact of washing, cleaning and caring for these textiles); and it even goes as far as to measure the company’s occupational health and safety procedures, water and energy consumption, waste water and waste treatment, as well as the generation of dust and noise in their overall processes from start to finish.

Most notably amongst eco enthusiasts, HABA is also highly well-known for their involvement in sustainable forestry: usage of all materials are continuously calculated, evaluated, and minimized; and all beech and birch wood used in their production comes from controlled, community-owned forests that do not employ hazardous chemicals and GMO, or tap on forests in ecologically protected areas.

HABA
Why We Love HABA:
– All wooden HABA toys are manufactured straight out of their home country in Germany, hence allowing for better control over quality and safety.

– The extremely sturdy and durable make of all HABA wooden toys means that they often far outlive toys from other brands – not only does this make it an extremely value-for-money investment for the toy chest, it also reduces your environmental footprint from frequent disposals and repeated purchases of the same thing!

– There is a reason why HABA prides themselves on being ‘the producer of inventive playthings for inquisitive minds’. From their colourful clutch toys for babies to their prolific range of card and board games for the older kids (and everything else in between), it is spectacular how acute the product team is to the developmental needs of children. There is an extremely strong focus on abstract learning facets that encourages experimenting, problem solving, logical thinking, impulse control, risk management, creativity and more – many of which are critical life skills not included in your traditional classroom syllabus.

– There is an amusing (but very true) epigram that floats the air, which comments that “HABA toys are available worldwide – but only at good retailers” – we really cannot help but agree!

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3. FOLKMANIS
Folkmanis is a fine example that sometimes, doing your part for the environment can be as simple as giving what you have.

Widely regarded as the most innovative puppet-maker in the world, Folkmanis Puppets consistently designs beautifully crafted puppets that inspire creativity, promote hands-on discovery, encourage interaction, teach fine and gross motor skills, help develop early language, and most importantly, become a child’s lovable companion to be treasured for years. The company’s line includes a menagerie of plush pets and friendly wildlife friends that are astoundingly life-like in appearance, with new designs constantly added to the drawing board each year. In fact, Folkmanis has been widely and often lauded for a combination of coveted qualities, including its superior design and materials, safety, excellent play value, innovation in the way its puppets are conceived and executed, as well as it environmental and/or social consciousness.

A wildly popular product choice at zoos, conservations, schools, shelters, orphanages, and more, Folkmanis continuously works with these related non-profit networks by donating their much loved puppets for a variety of purposes. Many child-related organizations utilize these puppets as part of a performance to educate children about the environment and the need to protect it; while some wildlife rescue centres even use these puppets to rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife before releasing them back into the wild!

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Why We Love Folkmanis:
– Folkmanis’ strong sense of community involvement is imperative in ensuring that our fight against climate change continues to grow through the years. By using these puppets to drive across effective and meaninful environmental messages to the community, Folkmanis ensures that the effect of their ‘green’ efforts do not just start and end within their own walls, but that public awareness is fostered towards environmental issues as well.

– The intricate detailing of all Folkmanis puppets is unparalleled – their life-like appearance and maneuverability, together with an extensive array of designs, allows for imaginative lesson planning and story telling both at home and in the classroom. As mentioned above, many wildlife rehabiliations have even been known to use these puppets to provide compassionate care for their sick and injured animals!

SES
4. SES
Safety is paramount in the formulation of any SES product. From their food-grade fingerpaints to their gluten-free clay to even their dermatologically tested face paints for sensitive skin, nothing escapes the attention of SES when it comes to ensuring that their materials and crafts pose no harmful risk for children or the environment. Packaging materials for all products are made with up to 80% recyclable or recyled materials; with optimally efficient transport and production systems aimed at minimising CO₂ emissions. In recent years, SES has even stepped up their environmental efforts by releasing an ECO line. With SES ECO, all products and packaging materials are made with more than 90% recyclable or recyled materials; and where plastics are required, only those from recycled sources are used. This ECO line even features a Funmais craft kit series, which is made from 100% biodegradable maize and allows kids to mold colourful pallets into interesting shapes and figures.

And the best part of all? All SES products are formulated and manufactured in-house in order to implement and maintain their strict safety and quality standards, released to the market only after they have gone through vigorous international safety test standards. Today, it is the only European arts and crafts manufacturer in the world that is still committed to manufacturing out of their own home country.

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Why We Love SES:
– SES’s finger paints are literally edible! While that may not be the product’s main objective, ensuring that their fingerpaints are of food-grade means a worry-free play time for parents – especially where the smaller ones are involved. No longer is there is need to panic if your tiny tot reaches for that biscuit and puts it into his mouth before washing off his hands, or if there is paint stuck in between their tiny fingernails and they start chewing on it before it comes to your attention – with SES, safety is always top-notch.  Bittergourd essence is even added into the formula so that little ones eventually learn with time that finger paints (as nice and tasty as they might look) are not exactly the best-test thing in the world for a snack!

– It can be a chore looking for face paints for the little ones. Normal store brands may result in breakouts or rashes because those formulas are often made to be thicker with more vivid colourants, which may not necessarily be good or even safe for children’s sensitive skin. SES’s face paints are not only mild and easily washable, they are also dermatologically tested to be safe for sensitive skin, giving us less to worry about when we need to slab some colour on our kids’ faces!

– From safety scissors to safety woodwork sets, we fully agree with SES that sometimes, safety comes from knowledge and not from sheltering our kids away from danger for as long as we can. Instead of indulging our first instincts to hide all those scissors and screwdrivers and hammers and saws, the SES team has, over the years, created a range of hobby and craft kits that are intended to educate our kids on the proper ways to handle these tools, as well as the care and safety procedures that should be observed whenever these objects are concerned. Through learning, kids will be more aware on their dangers and usefulness, and will be less likely to take these things lightly or be careless with them.

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5. STEIFF
When Steiff says that ‘for children, only the best is good enough‘, it is not an empty promise but rather, a creed that they have upheld for generations. All Steiff animals more than comply with the highest of demands with regards to quality, safety, processing and material characteristics; and the company often goes far beyond the legally required standards to ensure that Steiff is, indeed, the very best.

Through careful selection and inspection of both the materials used and the manufacturers employed,  Steiff has been able to maintain a consistent and unparallelled quality in all its products. No harmful fillings or colours are used in the construction of all its plush animals; and its top-quality seam workmanship ensures that a Steiff will, with care, always last a lifetime. Its fully organic bio-baby series remains at an eco-quality of the highest level: ecological cultivation without pesticides, no application of optical brighteners, colouring without allergenic components, as well as fair working conditions for all those involved.

Dubbed an heirloom brand by many worldwide, the longevity of a Steiff toy also contributes significantly to waste reduction in the long run, which is why the brand is fully committed to ensuring that a Steiff is always made to accompany their caregivers for a lifetime.

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Why We Love Steiff:
– Steiff was the first teddy bear makers in the world, which means that they basically invented the very play thing that most of our kids hug to sleep every night!

– Steiff possesses all the characteristics that transform brands into legends. From its insistence on using only the finest materials to its trademark ‘button-in-ear’ tag which marks the authenticity of all its plush toys, its refusal to compromise for cost has resulted in generations of heirloom creations that are special, memorable, and unique with lasting value.

– Behind the perfected Steiff brand that we have come to know and love, lies an inspiring story of a strong-willed and determined girl who fought hard against all odds to pave the formative steps for Steiff. Despite being paralysed in both legs and her right hand at an early age, Margarete Steiff’s unyielding spirit saw her through her physical challenges and gave her the perserverance needed to grow her brand one milestone at a time, into the prestigious mark of distinction that it is today. Click here to read all about Margarete Steiff’s humble beginnings – if this doesn’t motivate you to push harder even when all the odds are stacked against you, we don’t know what will!

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