Pop 2 Play Rainbow Slide | Source: WowWee

by KRISTIN MORENCY GOLDMAN, senior communications specialist, The Toy Association

One of The Toy Association’s top trends of the year is “Socially Conscious Play” — which includes everything from eco-friendly toys and products made of sustainable materials to toys that educate kids on how to protect the Earth and celebrate diversity — and it is more than just a passing fad.

“Parents are making more environmentally mindful purchases, and they want to instill eco-friendly practices in their children beginning at a very young age,” says Adrienne Appell, senior vice president of marketing communications at The Toy Association. “Toys with real and substantiated environmental benefits are buzzing right now, but it’s a trend that will only continue to grow as today’s kids get older and begin making their own purchasing decisions.”


Toymakers continue to find innovative ways to upcycle and design zero-waste products and packaging, recycle previously used toys, leverage cardboard for the basis of low-tech play, and create STEAM toys that educate kids on topics ranging from food sustainability to how to reduce plastics in our oceans.

Smaller companies that are interested in being more sustainable, but may not have the bandwidth to accomplish it on their own, are encouraged to tap into resources offered by The Toy Association, including the SmartPackaging Initiative (SPI), a tool that helps companies rate their packaging designs on sustainability and benchmark them against others in the industry that are producing in the same category.

Companies that would like to design highly effective STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) toys, including playthings that teach kids about environmental issues, can refer to The Toy Association’s recently completed STEAM Toy Assessment Framework, which helps toymakers develop and market products that meet a consistent definition of STEAM. These resources can be accessed at toyassociation.org/spi and toyassociation.org/steam.

Ecologic Memory Eating in Seasons Game | Source: Adventerra Games


Whether they’re celebrating Earth Day or generally looking to have a more eco-friendly play room, families can pick from a wide range of toys and games that inspire greener lifestyles and/or are made from recycled or sustainable materials.

Examples include Eating in Season by Adventerra Games, an original concentration game that teaches kids how to eat healthily and help the environment by choosing seasonal products. The pieces feature illustrated backgrounds that show players which season is best for eating each food.

Discarded fishing nets have been identified as the most harmful form of plastic pollution in the ocean, each year trapping tens of thousands of ocean
animals including whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, seals, octopuses, and sea birds. Each set of Jenga Ocean, a game from Art’s Ideas, features blocks made from more than 25 square feet of recycled fishing nets, sourced through Bureo’s Net Positiva recycling program. All of the packaging is also 100% recycled and recyclable.

Snap Circuits Green Energy from Elenco teaches kids the basics of electronics and modern alternative energy by exploring clean energy concepts, such as electric cars, windmills, and hand-generated power. The set includes a full-color manual and a separate “Think Green” educational manual that explains different types of environmentally friendly energy, from geothermal, wind, and solar to tidal and hydro.

Related: Aurora World Celebrates Eco Nation Success with Mid-Year Plush Additions

Aurora World has a new line of soft, sustainable plush called Eco Nation. The plush animals and their packaging are made from 100% recycled materials. They are available in 9-inch styles, including a panda, a river otter, a flamingo, a sloth, and more.

SPLATZ from One Fun Co. are eco-friendly bubbles made of pure hand soap that literally splat when kids squeeze them. Developed using a patent-pending formula and all-natural ingredients, these are designed to change the way kids think about washing their hands. Natural and biodegradable, the product also comes in eco-friendly packaging.

Kids can get the experience of frog dissection without using a real frog with Dissect-It Frog Lab from Top Secret Toys. The set features a proprietary, new gelatin material that gives the frog its form. Although the frog is solid, kids can cut into it. It is also kid-safe and biodegradable.

Pop 2 Play from WowWee is a line of storable, pop-up play sets that parents can assemble in less than five minutes and fold flat for easy storage. Each set is made with a durable, eco-friendly StrongFold cardboard material that can hold up to 50 pounds.

To learn more about the “Socially Conscious Play” trend and to see more examples of toys that make a positive impact, watch the 2021 toy trends briefing video, which is available on The Toy Association’s YouTube channel.

This article was originally published in the May 2021 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!

About the author

Kristin Morency Goldman

Kristin Morency Goldman

As The Toy Association’s senior communications specialist, Kristin Morency Goldman leads the development of content for its print and online communications. Her articles on toy trends, toy safety, and industry news can be found in trade and consumer publications around the world. She holds a master’s degree in media, culture, and communications from NYU.