Activist Irish business challenges polluting toy industry practices
Sharon Keilthy found shopping for her daughter frustrating because most toys were made of and wrapped in plastic.
After discovering that there are minimal options out there to find eco-friendly alternatives, she decided to start her own company that focuses on retailing and distributing the earth-kindest toys across Ireland & the UK.
Sharon’s vision is to build an activist business, which challenges polluting toy industry practices while educates retailers and parents about the environmental impact of toys.
Interview with Irish entrepreneur, Sharon Keilthy, founder of Jiminy Eco Toys
"Ever since having my daughter, I become more conscious of our environment, and as a parent, I was incredibly sick of the plastic-wrapped in plastic.
I went into toy stores one after the other, hoping to find something locally-made and plastic-free, and came out with a heavy heart and empty hands.
I just couldn't buy it anymore.
How can we expect people to choose a sustainable toy if they can't find one?
I decided to do my bit by making eco toys more available by retailing and wholesaling them across the UK and Ireland.
So, I created Jiminy Eco Toys in 2018, naming my business after Pinocchio’s conscience, Jiminy Cricket.
When I went to my first toy trade fair in Spring 2019 - Toy Fair in London - it was a sea of ‘made-in-China plastic.
With a big smile on my face, I asked each of the 220 exhibitors what they had that was plastic-free. 200 of them thought and said, "Nothing," with a chuckle and a shrug15 had hand-made wooden toys shipped 22,000km from Sri Lanka, Thailand.
Only 5 had anything at all that was made in Europe and plastic-free.
The daily newspaper covering the toy trade show had headlines like, "Plastic fantastic", and there was no narrative at all about sustainability.
I was really shocked.
A year later, when we exhibited there, we were the only eco-specialist exhibitor.
I went around asking my question again, but most exhibitors were still not thinking about sustainability at all.
Playing with plastic
Sustainability is far from being implemented in this industry since 90% of the toys are made from plastic and about 80% of them are made in China, creating a massive carbon footprint besides emissions from production.
The toy industry is huge and won’t change overnight.
Still, we need to shine a light on practices that are not sustainable and threaten our future.
After all, you are buying toys for the next generation while jeopardising their future by doing so, which is not what people who love their kids would do intentionally.
We need more education, awareness and action to make this shift happen.
The global toy industry's top 4 producers and top 4 polluters are Hasbro, Mattel, LEGO, and MGA (who make Bratz and LOL).
LEGO is the only one with an announced vision to switch to plant-based plastic instead of petroleum-based. They're talking about 2030, and as of now, only 2% of their bricks have transitioned.
I wish their plan were faster, but at least they have one.
The others have some vague lines about offsetting, claiming that "we'll switch to biodegradable wrappers", removing some plastic from packaging, a few token recycled plastic products - but I couldn’t find their vision for their own sustainable future.
My sense is that the toy industry has been late to wake up.
Although most people still want cheap plastic, there is a growing percentage of people who want to choose more sustainable options.
Running an activist business
I think an activist business is a great way to use your skills to change the world for the better.
Although it has its challenges, like every other business, as an entrepreneur, I find that managing time is one the most complicated part of keeping a business running that relies on me.
After successfully kicking off, I realised that I need to bring people on board who could help me grow my business and our impact.
Currently, I’m looking for board members who have the wisdom and will to turn the tide on plastic in the toy industry while making it work as an enterprise.
I run an activist business to offer better alternatives and encourage parents and suppliers to choose sustainably and become more conscious about the consequences of their choices.
My vision is not to build an empire but to solve a problem with a business solution.
On the other hand, the reward is when you have moments to experience the willingness to take the extra effort to change.
The other week we received a handwritten envelope and note in the post. Inside was a clipping from a newspaper of an article about our plantable experience gift cards.
The message said "4 cards please" with an address and a €20 note to cover the cost.
It was a lovely flashback to simpler times, and we very joyfully fulfilled that order."
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