ZURU is celebrating Earth Day in a big way.

The New Zealand-based toy and consumer products company is expanding upon its long-running sustainability mission with a full 360-degree program for its Bunch O Balloons brand and sweeping changes to its production and packaging for other products.

Following a recycling initiative that launched with TerraCycle last summer, the Bunch O Balloons program has been retooled to prevent an estimated 800 tons of single-use plastic from entering the supply chain each year. Beginning in August, ZURU will begin producing all Bunch O Balloons plastic stems and caps with 100% fully certified and traceable post-consumer recycled plastic. Through the TerraCycle program, consumers will be able to recycle Bunch O Balloons parts, balloon pieces, and foil bag packaging that are currently in the market. The balloons themselves are made of natural latex, which will biodegrade.

“The Bunch O Balloons program showcases our all-in commitment to a full-circle approach to sustainability,” says ZURU Chief Operating Officer Anna Mowbray. “We are changing to 100% post-consumer recycled plastic materials in our manufacturing and giving it a new life cycle, rather than seeing it end up in landfills and the ocean, as well as providing consumers easy opportunities to recycle yet again.”

Bunch O Balloons

The full transformation of the Bunch O Balloons brand is just one piece of a larger effort that began in 2007 when ZURU first eliminated tissue paper from its packaging. Over the past decade, the move toward sustainability has continued through the elimination of wire twist ties in packaging, the adoption of single-wall boxes, and moves to smaller, open-box packs where applicable.

By the end of the year, ZURU will transition an estimated 13 million plastic polybags to sustainably sourced paper bags for its popular surprise toys. Where applicable to maintain overall product quality, the new bags will be found across the 5 Surprise, Smashers, and Rainbocorns brands, in addition to the new Itty Bitty Prettys.

The moves come at a time when the toy industry is making significant changes toward becoming more environmentally friendly and sustainable, despite an industry-wide lack of definition or standards. Sustainability can also come at a cost.

“Endeavoring to be a sustainable leader in our industry comes with its unique set of challenges,” Mowbray tells the Toy Book. “A key challenge is that primarily when you move to more sustainable business practices, these usually lead to a higher cost of raw materials or additional funds to manage initiatives such as recycling programs like our Terracycle/Bunch O Balloons partnership. When the whole industry isn’t regulated this can mean the product can, at times, not compete on price.”

Mowbray says that she believes that as more companies get on board with sustainability and more regulations go into effect, the playing field will be leveled.

“We also face challenges on consumer understanding and the difference in perception of what is more sustainable in practice versus what is better long term for the environment,” she says. “For example, sugarcane plastic has been found to, in some cases, have a more harmful effect on the environment. So we at ZURU always hold ourselves to doing what is right for long term sustainability versus jumping on trends. We firmly believe this is more than a trend, this is the future, and we are 100% committed to ensuring we make the right changes for a more sustainable future no matter what challenges we face.”

Tiny Town

Additional efforts from ZURU this year include evolutions in packaging and tooling for new and existing brands. Its Sparkle Girlz brand — acquired from Funville last year — will move toward more blister-free packaging as it follows the plastic-free “doll cone” packaging used on some of its products. ZURU’s Tiny Town ride-ons, which debuted at Toy Fair New York this year, are designed to stack both during shipping and during retail display. With no packaging required, the carbon footprint for Tiny Town is reduced by more than 75%.

Sparkle Girlz“Retailers have been incredibly receptive and supportive of the changes we are making,” Mowbray explains. “Many of our partners are starting to embrace their own sustainability goals and we are really pleased that we can support them on that journey. In our first year of the partnership with Terracycle, our retail partners have shown strong support and we are now looking at how we can expand this program and make it more meaningful for the retailers too.”

Mowbray says that in addition to parents taking note of the TerraCycle program, kids are recognizing the logo and its significance too. The company plans to have all of its molds adapted to include the correct recycling grade logo on plastic pieces by June of next year in an effort to further encourage recycling.

In February, Mowbray received the Wonder Woman in Manufacturing Award at the 16th Annual Wonder Women Awards presented by Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment.

“Earth Day is every day for our amazing team at ZURU,” Mowbray says. “We challenge ourselves to rethink, reduce, and recycle in all aspects of our business. From day-to-day operations to leading the change in our industry, and encouraging our customers to do their part in making a long-lasting impact.”