Reduce, Reuse & Have Fun
As pet parents become more environmentally conscious, independent retailers continue to be their go-to source of information on the best eco-friendly toys.
From the car we drive to the food we eat, every consumer choice has an impact on the environment—even the toys we buy for our pets. That’s why an increasing number of pet parents are choosing pet toys that are both fun and eco-friendly.
“The demand for eco-friendly products has grown, and I think it’s because we’re living in an age where people are starting to focus on how they can make a difference when it comes to recycling and using recycled products,” says Colleen McCracken, owner and CEO of Westbrook, Maine-based Planet Dog. “It’s now more appealing to make a conscious effort to pay attention to these types of things.”
While it’s still a niche market, manufacturers are responding in kind to the growing demand, producing a wide variety of toys that owners can feel good about giving their furry friends. But what actually makes a toy eco-friendly?
One of the most common ways to judge a toy’s “green-ness” is by its source materials—what is it made out of? All of Planet Dog’s Recycle Line toys, for example, are made using 100 percent of the leftover materials from the construction of other products. The line, which includes bouncy balls and durable bones, allows the company to virtually eliminate its waste while simultaneously creating fun toys for pets.
Other companies, like Cycle Dog, rescue and recycle materials bound for the landfill to create their toys. “Cycle Dog was founded as an eco-friendly company,” explains Lanette Fidrych, president of the Portland, Ore.-based company. “All of our products use post-consumer recycled materials.”
Fidrych was inspired to start the company by her love of the environment and her love of biking. After noting how many rubber tires, like those from her bike, ended up in landfills, she began reusing the tubes to create collars for her dogs. Since 2009, the company has reclaimed hundreds of thousands of discarded inner tubes to create high-quality and engaging toys. All of Cycle Dog’s products, from the Flat Tire Flyer disk to the plush Fuzzies! toys are made in the U.S. with recycle post-consumer materials including tubes and water bottles.
What toys are made of isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to choosing eco-friendly toys. Where the raw materials come from can also make a big difference.
“Over the past 20-plus years, we’ve seen a lot of businesses and their products claim to be eco-friendly, yet the proof is in how they manufacture the product,” says Spencer Williams, owner and president of Bozeman, Mont.-based West Paw Design. “One of our values is to source raw materials grown or produced in the USA, to keep jobs here but also to lessen our carbon footprint.” In fact, 98 percent of the materials used in West Paw Design’s products, including a wide range of dog and cat toys, are sourced in the U.S.
Durable & Safe Options
Another—less obvious—way to determine if a pet toy is environmentally friendly is its durability.
“Consumers are looking for toys that last. They are tired of poor quality toys that are destroyed within minutes of purchase,” says Erick Gonzalez, vice president of research and development for Pittsburg, Calif.-based Petsport. “Plus, if the toy goes straight to the garbage—and then the landfill—then it’s not very eco-friendly, even if it’s made out of environmentally friendly ingredients.”
Since the introduction of the Tuff Ball in 1998, Petsport has been a leader in long-lasting pet toys. Each toy is made with high-quality materials and designed to withstand hours of play with even the most rough and tumble pups. The Firehouse Bumper, for instance, is made with real, industrial-strength fire hose.
Gonzalez also points to safety as a major concern among green-minded pet owners. “Pet parents want toys that are safe for their dogs since the toy goes straight into their mouth,” he explains. “A well-designed toy that is non-toxic and eco-friendly is by nature a safe toy. So, you kill two birds with one stone when you make an eco-friendly toy.”
McCracken agrees, adding, “Pet parents really care about what their pets put in their mouth, especially when it comes down to toys. You wouldn’t want your pet to play or chew on anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable letting your own child play with too.”
Inks and paints are the most common sources of toxins in pet toys, so retailers and consumers should look for toys labeled “non-toxic.” This marker means that the toys have at least been tested by the manufacturer for heavy metals, harmful plastics like BPA and PVC, and plastic softeners such as phthalates. Gonzalez also recommends that retailers request proof of third-party testing from an accredited lab to ensure safety of products.
While education is a key component of any sales strategy, it’s especially important for this category. Since eco-friendly products are still relatively new to the toy aisle, many consumers aren’t sure how to make smart, environmentally conscious shopping decisions.
“There is a lot of false advertisement out there that has resulted in a skeptical consumer,” says Gonzalez.
“Take the term ‘natural’ [for example]. It is often used on packaging, but actually has no legal definition per the FDA. So, owners want to know what specifically makes this toy eco-friendly.”’
Making It Easy to Go Eco-Friendly
Retailers can help consumers by only stocking quality eco-friendly toys from reputable manufacturers. Retailers should take the time to research brands and understand what makes their products safe and sustainable—whether it’s the materials, manufacturing process, durability or all of the above. This way, the sales team already has the know-how to effectively educate consumers.
“If you don’t have the resources to educate your store employees, make sure you are doing business with a company that will send out a sales rep to train and educate your employees on these issues,” says Gonzalez.
With so many eco-friendly toy choices available in today’s market, from plush animals and ropes to balls and rubber chews, customers are also looking to retailers to help them choose the right product for their pet’s unique needs and preferences.
“With a new pet parent who is making an initial purchase, I would recommend a selection of rope, rubber toys and strong, durable plush like our canvas line of toys,” suggests Gonzalez. “If the dog doesn’t play with these, then maybe they are too rough and you should move to a softer plush or rubber.”
A great manufacturer can also help salespeople make expert recommendations by supplying plenty of product specs, training and support materials. “We have a specific page on our website that’s dedicated to learning and choosing the right toy for your pet,” explains McCracken. “We do our best to partner with our retailers, providing them with tools and support that allow them to be as successful as possible with our products.”
With the right brands at their side, retailers can feel confident that they’re helping pet owners make the best choices—both for their pets and for the planet.