Green Toys & LUNAR
This family of toys is made with recycled plastic from used milk jugs. Without losing an ounce of the fun, this line introduces innovative, reengineered and redesigned versions of classic toys that push the limits of sustainable materials and manufacturing, representing a new step in the greening of everyday objects.
GREEN TOYS Just Robert von Goeben, President and Co-Founder
LUNAR Jeff Servaites, Engineer Scot Herbst, Industrial Designer
Julie Lasky: The dilemma is as old as Dr. Seuss: progressive parents want their kids to play with handsome, environmentally benign wooden toys, while the kids prefer the flexibility and jellybean hues of plastic (plus, it hurts a lot less when you're conked with it). Leave it to a Northern California company to engineer toys that are not only 100% recycled and recyclable plastic but are also produced within 30 miles of San Francisco. Made from used milk jugs, the toys in this classically designed collection are attractive, durable and model citizens.
Rama Chorpash: Green Toys' harnessing of an overlooked waste stream (milk-jugs) and local industrial production shows how design might not only create great products, but take account for intentional by-products.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
The challenge was to design toys that are not only sustainable, but safe -- a pressing concern for products that find their way into toddler's hands and mouths. At the same time, they had to be durable enough to withstand the kid torture test AND be cool enough for parents to want to have in their house. Oh, and we added the additional hurdles of making them completely within a 30 mile radius of San Francisco.
Because we wanted to create children’s toys that were made from recycled materials and 100% recyclable, this meant no metal, plastic cellophane, twist ties, etc. This project represented a true challenge from an engineering and design standpoint: how to work creatively with a novel material (High Density Polyethylene) to also achieve the highest standards of safety and environmental sustainability. Through enthusiastic collaboration and imaginative solutions, the engineers and designers were able to push past the constraints of non-traditional materials, unforgiving manufacturing processes and eliminate the use of painting or printing to create objects that are singular, safe, and visually enticing -- and, of course, green.
We were excited because it had never been done!! No one had ever tried to roll recycled content, afterlife recyclability, great design and local US manufacturing into one product. We challenged ourselves to make a product that checked every box. In the end, among other products, we chose three classic designs: Tugboat, Stacker and Firetruck. The line continues to grow all the time, with more and more toys.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
The designs for the toys needed to reflect the brand's signature aesthetic: simplicity, both visual and physical. This line of toys embodies that characteristic and features a bright palette and clean elliptical curves, for a softened, contemporary take on the classic playthings.
The designs also had to represent the goal of 100% recycled and recyclable product (while minimizing plastic volume), so we took a 100% no-compromise approach. We said we wouldn’t take little shortcuts here and there, or make some components in China. We put together a very tough environmental standards list and we stuck to it.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
Together, the visual expression and design solution created for this line of toys are a sure draw for their intended consumers: green-minded parents who are looking for a fun and engaging toy that won’t compromise their children's safety. The inherent simplicity of the designs, both visually and from a manufacturing standpoint, connects with parents who want honest -- and honestly-made – products, allowing us to pass the parental “organic food” standards test. That is to say, we wanted products that parents could ask us any question about (materials, packaging, etc.) and be able to tell them we exceed all chemical and mechanical safety standards.
In addition, the product had to be cool and different enough for retailers to want to carry it. There are thousands of toy brands and most toy stores are small so we needed to really distinguish ourselves with classic, almost retro designs.
Finally, everything else was for naught if the toy wasn’t fun for kids. So the play pattern had to be something that kids would immediately take to.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
We started with a tremendous amount of research on vintage toys. We closely studied them from a dimensional standpoint—how big was a classic toy fire truck, how many rings should a baby stacker have, how flat is the bottom of a tug boat? Every physical characteristic was analyzed, dissected, decided, redefined, etc.
Next was surface detail—how realistic did we want to be? Were we a Matchbox car that strives to be an exact replica of a real life object, or a cartoonish toy that has wildly exaggerated features? In the end we decided on two main design criteria: 1) we would strive to be more realistic than stylized, so the ladders on the fire truck would look like real ladders, and the smoke stack on the tugboat was in correct proportion to the hull, etc., and 2) we chose a tight era of late 1950’s to early 1960’s as a vintage framework for ID. We felt like this was the most classic and iconic era for children’s toys and would be the most appealing.
And last, but certainly not least, we had to be able to actually mass produce the product from 100% recycled high-density polyethylene from curbside collected milk jugs, which was the material we had chose for its strength, safety, and energy savings eco stats. That means it had to be moldable but keep all the design characteristics above, with no metal screws or fasteners.
From a production standpoint, design for manufacturability was quite challenging. The material cools differently than the standard injection molding materials (ABS, PC, etc.). When designing interacting parts, we had to consider part warp and material shrinkage. Features such as snaps had to be made much larger than normal, as the material is much less elastic than normal materials.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
We are very proud of the fact that, given the high bar of eco, safety and design standards, we totally nailed it!! Our products are the *only* toys on the market that can even come close to claiming 100% recycled content, complete recyclability, a great design, and pass the mom-safety-and cool and kid-fun tests. We feel very proud that our products really are (and we mean really are) the gold-standard for earth-friendliness, safety, social consciousness and fun
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
While we are totally thrilled with how the toys turned out, we really wish we would have stepped back and had more fun during the process. We set such a high bar for ourselves, and we strove to achieve every single aspect of the social mission and design. This led to a lot of heated debates and sleepless nights. While we have a lot of fun making our toys, we take the responsibility very seriously. So, while the process wasn’t always fun, it was the right thing to do.