Pet product manufacturers are expanding their toy lines to include offerings made from non-toxic, natural materials and eco-friendly components.
Photo courtesy of West Paw Design
While it still occupies a niche segment of the market, the eco-friendly pet toy category continues to grow as consumers increasingly demand products that help promote environmental protection through sustainable manufacturing practices. Retailers have recognized the need to provide eco-friendly products to pet parents and are dedicating more and more shelf space to this emerging category, while manufacturers continue to search for production processes and raw materials that are safe for the environment.
For example, the practice of reusing products that would otherwise be headed for the landfill is growing within the pet industry.
“As an avid bike rider, many miles also means many flat tubes,” says Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog. “Being an environmentally conscious individual, I did not want to throw my old tubes in the trash, knowing they would take thousands of years to decompose. Instead of throwing away my tubes, I started making dog collars for our family dog.”
Fidrych’s collars caught the attention of environmentally conscientious pet parents, who began requesting toys—a venture the company wanted to approach after careful planning. The goal was to produce entertaining, long-lasting pet toys that promote reuse and recycling. Remaining true to its roots, Cycle Dog began repurposing inner tubes to produce its toy line and continues this mission as new items are planned and launched.
“Our new Fuzzy Flyers use reclaimed bike inner-tube rubber around the perimeter, creating a flying disk that is soft on doggie mouths, yet is durable and flies great.”
When discussing inner-tube sources for the brand’s Ecolast Rubber Toys, Fidrych reveals, “We collect inner tubes from cycling companies, bike shops and individuals. We freely accept inner tubes from all sources. We collected over 100,000 tubes this year alone, enough to fit into four 40-foot tractor trailers.”
Some pet toy manufacturers rely on Mother Nature to provide sustainable materials to make their products. These companies typically use a short list of ingredients and materials, affording a high level of transparency to consumers. For example, Jax & Bones uses non-toxic vegetable dye and cotton rope to manufacture certain toys.
“Our Good Karma Rope Toys hold up to machine washing and drying, and when they are fully unraveled, they can be composted, as the cotton is biodegradable,” according to Jessica Pope, national sales director for Jax & Bones. “By using AZO-free vegetable dyes, we ensure our pets and our planet are safe from harmful toxins for the life of the toy.”
Though the cotton that is used to manufacture Jax & Bones’ rope is biodegradable, it must also endure the demands of playful pets. The company also uses boiled wool, which is easily formed into shapes and accepts the vegetable dying procedure, yet becomes fortified when processed.
“When boiled, wool felts to create a stronger fiber structure which helped to add durability to our squeaky wool toys,” says Pope. “The tying on the rope toys is also strengthened by the wrapping and knotting that occurs when the toy is made, aiding to overall durability.”
Through manufacturing biodegradable toys that are made to last, Jax & Bones ensures that its products will sustain pets’ rough play and not create unnecessary refuse, which is one of the best environmental defenses a manufacturer can provide.
Though the components of pet toys are important, many consumers also consider whether a company’s manufacturing processes are earth friendly and safe before buying products. When a warehouse or manufacturing plant does not follow sustainable practices, consumers will often question the eco-friendliness of the finished products. Practicing green manufacturing, storage and shipping are all factors that contribute to how environmentally conscientious a company will be viewed by consumers.
“West Paw Design sustainably manufactures 100 percent of our products in our state-of-the-art environmentally friendly building located in Bozeman, Mont.,” says West Paw Design president and founder Spencer Williams. “Our team works hard to consider the environment by eliminating waste in every toy and bed we create. Many toys are made from eco-friendly hemp fabric or from the remnants of fabric from our beds–all for the purpose of eliminating waste.”
Though West Paw Design emphasizes sustainable manufacturing, its toys include components that promote environmental responsibility. Its polyester fiber-fill, IntelliLoft, which is created from recycled bottles, is non-toxic and third-party-certified safe. Through its innovative manufacturing, West Paw Design has prevented 9.7 million plastic bottles from entering landfills.
The entire West Paw Design toy line has not gone to the dogs, as the company also offers USDA-certified organic catnip for feline family members. Williams reveals that feline health and environmental sustainability are the main objectives for choosing organic catnip ingredients.
“We’ve been using USDA-certified organic catnip before organic was a household word,” he says. “Safety is what inspired us to offer organic catnip and why cat parents should choose organic catnip. Our organic catnip is composed of only fresh-milled leaves and flowers, grown sustainably on U.S. soil without synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.”
Eco-toys for All Seasons
When choosing toys for puppies, pet parents will often buy products that are suitable for teething, but senior dogs also need products to suit their later life stage. As a pioneer of eco-friendly pet products, Planet Dog’s focus was to offer innovative, green products for all phases of an animal’s life. In response to the needs of senior dogs, Amanda O’Brien, director of marketing for Planet Dog, says the company developed its Old Soul Ball and Old Soul Bone by combining its recyclable, non-toxic Orbee-Tuff material with bright colors and increasing the natural mint mineral oil aroma for easy location by older canines.
“We wanted a fun, whimsical toy that was better for their mouth,” she says. “Puppies have those puppy teeth coming in so they need something. Older dogs’ toys are silver or teal, so it’s easier to find, and we turned up the peppermint for them and it’s softer.”
As a founding member of Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition (PISC), Planet Dog is interested in not only manufacturing environmentally sensible products, but also promoting green practices among its peers. While the company seeks to raise awareness of eco-friendly practices in the pet-products industry, it warns that retailers must also be aware of greenwashing–the practice of making exaggerated claims regarding a company’s sustainable manufacturing processes.
“Greenwashing is frustrating when we’ve been doing this for so long and someone comes along simply putting the words out there,” says O’Brien. “Our retailers are our first line in talking to consumers regarding us versus them. It’s up to them to know the space, know what things are made of and ask the right questions.”
Eco-friendly pet toys are gaining momentum, but this trend is not a fad and will expand with the rising consumer interest in transparent manufacturing practices. As the eco-friendly pet-toy segment continues to grow, retailers must discern between manufacturers that are actively green, environmentally responsible players and others that are simply greenwashing.