There are more and more shops in Germany without packaging. Customers bring their own containers for their food and fill their own goods. This not only protects the environment, but also your wallet, because you only buy what you really need. But is this principle also conceivable in the toy sector? This is what Luna Journal has been talking about with manufacturers and retailers.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, every German produced an average of 220.5 kg of packaging waste in 2016. No other European country produces as much packaging waste as Germany. No wonder that more and more so-called unpacked shops are opening nationwide. An estimated 80 of these stores already exists, many more are already in the planning stage. Instead of having to buy pre-filled quantities of food, customers can fill the desired goods in specially brought glass containers, fabric bags or storage tins. A principle that can also be applied to the toy trade?

First approaches already implemented

“The toy market is strongly brand driven. This also means that brand manufacturers make key decisions about packaging design right from the product development stage,” says Steffen Kahnt of the Bundesverband des Spielwaren-Einzelhandels e.V. (Federal Association of Toy Retailers). Since 2012 Mattel has been trying to minimize packaging material as much as possible in the process of design and product development. In the redesign of the Fisher Price Learn with Lights Piano, for example, 40 percent of the packaging material originally used could be reduced. According to the company, 50,000 square meters of cardboard could thus be saved for the toys of this type produced in 2014 and 2015.

Other manufacturers are already a step further along the road. At the toy manufacturer HABA, for example, many toys are designed in such a way that – if outer packaging is indispensable – they can be integrated as part of the game. The boxes supplied not only serve for storage but are also an essential element of the toy as such. For products such as melamine tableware, shop accessories or clutching toys, the company dispenses completely with packaging; only the legally prescribed information such as warnings or the address of the distributor is attached to the loose products in the form of a small tag or sticker. According to press spokeswoman Anne Polsak, Mattel is already working on similar solutions: “We are already very active in this field and are working on approaches to integrate packaging into the game.

Contradictory customer requirements

As far as packaging is concerned, customers’ wishes obviously differ. At the toy manufacturer HABA, for example, you can see that the end consumer likes to touch and try the products before buying them. Packaging is an obstacle to this. “In contrast, however, many value “original-packaged” goods, since the products appear untouched and cleaner. In addition, packaging is particularly popular for gifts, as it conveys the value as new,” describes HABA PR representative Julia Roth. Heidi Scholz, owner of the Kremers toy store in Hamm, observes in day-to-day business that customers are not willing to pay more for packaged toys if they have the direct choice. “We once had sand vehicles from the same manufacturer in our range – once packed, once without packaging. Customers were not willing to spend a few more euros on the packaged vehicle.”

Omitting packaging completely is “not feasible”

In fact, many toys cannot do without packaging. This has logistical as well as hygienic reasons. The Toy Directive requires manufacturers to place only hygienically safe and clean toys on the market. “This must be taken into account in the entire flow of goods, such as transport in oversea containers with various influences such as rain, diesel exhaust fumes, etc., storage in containers, postal dispatch or storage on the retailer’s shelf,” explains Julia Roth. Comprehensible for retailers and consumers. “At one point or another it would certainly be possible to reduce or optimize the packaging. But even there are clear limits, especially for us as traders,” says Heidi Scholz. “With the abundance of toys we offer in the shop, we sometimes depend on stable outer packaging to present and store them appropriately. Especially with small parts such as metal cars or large multi-part play sets, unpackaged goods would simply not be feasible”.

Manufacturers and retailers have a duty

No doubt something has to change, because experts estimate that by 2050 more plastic could swim in the sea than fish. The pressure to act is growing. Other factors, such as the ban on imports of certain types of waste that came into force in China in 2018, are exacerbating the situation. Up to now China has been one of the largest customers for German plastic waste. 2019 will also see the new Packaging Act become legally binding in Germany and replace the current Packaging Ordinance. “These developments could be the initial spark to produce less packaging waste and encourage both manufacturers and retailers to switch more and more to sustainable packaging,” says a representative study by the management consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers in its survey results. For its February 2018 study Packaging in focus, the institute asked a thousand people about food packaging. According to this, the respondents see the manufacturers (45 percent), the trade (22 percent), the legislator (18 percent) and themselves (15 percent) in particular as obliged to reduce packaging waste.


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