The Sustainability of Plush Animals
By Lisa Baldwin, Owner of Geometric Charmer - 5/8/2023
Are Plush Animals Sustainable?
The simple answer to this is no, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Generally speaking, any kind of plastic is unsustainable, especially virgin plastic. Eventually, we will run out of the fossil fuels that produce our synthetic plastics; producing plastic is a long chemical process. Every step in producing a plush animal from fossil fuels to buying it at a shop has an impact on the environment and economy.
What is Plastic?
I want to specify that we’re specifically talking about synthetic plastics that are derived from fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal. However, ‘plastic’ refers to any material that has plasticity and is polymer based, “Plastics are simply chains of like molecules linked together. These chains are called polymers. This is why many plastics begin with “poly,” such as polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene.” - Plastics Make it Possible
Natural sources include animal horns, turtle shells, and plant cellulose. In fact, even our own DNA is made up of polymers. But this doesn’t mean that we’re made of plastic, but it does mean that no matter how hard we try, plastic is inescapable.
In the grand scheme of things, synthetic plastic is relatively new. Currently it is only 162 years since it’s invention, and 154 years since its introduction to the market. Many experts are calling this the "Plastic Age".
Synthetic plastics are derived from fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels go through a chemical process and become 'nurdles' or raw forms of plastic.
The raw material gets spun into usable textiles.
These textiles are sewn into plush animals and then finally make it into market.
Natural plastics are always going to exist, but synthetic plastics have quickly become the world’s go to material. Bottles, toothbrushes, paint, equipment, fabrics, packaging, furniture, technology, art materials, and storage are all usually made from synthetic plastics. There’s always going to be exceptions, but plastic is first pick more often than not.
How are plush animals involved in this?
The majority of plush animals are made of plastic-based textiles, stuffing, eyes, and thread. My own plush horses are made entirely of plastic. Minky fabric is a polyester based fabric, and polyester is a synthetic plastic. Every part of my process for making a plush includes the use of plastic, I use plastic markers to mark my fabric, I sew with a machine made of mostly plastic. The thread is polyester, the stuffing is plastic, the eyes are plastic. The acrylic paint and resin I use to seal in the paint is plastic, even the UV light to cure the resin is made of plastic.
But it’s not just my own plush animals, the majority of plush animals on the market are plastic. There are some sustainably made plush animals on the market made from plant derived textiles and stuffing, but they’re not widespread and can never match the range that plastics have.
It’s pretty unlikely that natural plastics would be able to compete with Squish Mallows, or even compare to the type of texture and squishiness they have. Mass produced plush animals are more marketable, and they’re easier to produce in our current world climate. It would take a lot of investment to recreate Squish Mallows with sustainable materials and practices. It’s unlikely that they’d end up being the same price as they are now.
Of used textiles are dumped in landfills, only 15% of post-consumer textiles are recycled.
Of textiles are wasted by the average American every years
Of landfills are made up of textiles, plastics make up 18% of landfills.
Could plastics be banned?
Many environmentalists are calling for the banning of all plastics, but I don’t think they understand how deep plastic runs in America. It’s quite literally everywhere.
What is the future of plush animals if plastic becomes banned?
I think corporations are going to have to become smarter about how they handle their impact on the environment. Some are making advancements, while others are just green washing. One of the biggest issues they face is the scrap material leftover, this mainly includes the scrap thread and fabric that’s unusable to make more plushies.
"The global stuffed animal & plush toys market size was valued at USD 7.98 billion in 2018 and is anticipated to expand at a CAGR of 7.61% over the forecast period of 2019 to 2025."
-Grand View Research
What does this mean for artist made plushies?
How do the ethics and environmental impact of plastics compare to the importance of art? The majority of art supplies now are made of different synthetic plastics. Acrylic paint, synthetic brushes, textiles, resin, cameras, and tablets are all plastic based materials. When it comes to any art form, the ethics of using plastic to is often not considered.
However, post-consumer plastic is often turned into art. The biggest problem that artists face is the mass production of plastic, I’ve seen plenty of content creators make mass-produced plushies for their fans; but how many of those fans actually hold onto those products?
I don’t mean to make myself look like a saint for making handmade plush animals. One of the biggest reasons I don’t have them made by a manufacturer is I just don’t have the funds to order 500 plush animals. Or the audience to sell them to, the space to store them in. I’m too picky about designs, there’s so many colors, body types, and combinations of patterns a horse can be, how could I possibly choose just one or a few to produce?
The plush industry is vast, and it's difficult to pinpoint solutions when everyone has a different problem. My goal is always to educate, so that you can make the best decision for yourself while being considerate of your impact. I'm always happy to chat, so reach out if you have questions, ideas, or information you think would apply.