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November 3, 2016

Natural products have hit their stride in the pet industry. As consumers become more aware of what they’re offering their pets, companies have responded with toys that are not only natural, but also manufactured using environmentally responsible business practices.

The number of pets owned has remained relatively constant this year, yet people are spending more on their pets. Natural, organic and made-in-the-USA products are leading the pack in rapid growth. As sustainable manufacturing practices and organic products enter the arena, we can expect plenty of natural toys to liven up the industry for all species of pets.

Hemp’s Popularity
The use of renewable materials is important as the natural category continues to expand, with hemp being the new darling. As one of the earliest domesticated plants, hemp is fast-growing, requires little water and thrives in almost any climate. Nearly every part of the plant can be used, which makes it remarkably efficient.

Hemp’s durable natural fibers make it a natural choice for pet toys. Compared to cotton, hemp has a 62-percent greater tear strength and 102-percent greater tensile strength. It’s also naturally anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, mildew-free and nearly twice as strong as cotton.
West Paw Design, one of the early leaders in natural and eco-responsible manufacturing, features organic hemp for its line of hemp dog toys.

“Hemp feels luxurious, but it’s not too fancy for machine washing and drying,” said Spencer Williams, owner and president of West Paw Design. “And since hemp naturally fights odors, bacteria and microbes, it stays clean longer afterwards.”

West Paw Design’s stuffed toys and beds get their resilient fluff from IntelliLoft, an eco-friendly stuffing used in beds and toys, which is made from recycled bottles. By recycling existing PETE polymer material, West Paw Design has reduced energy use while keeping plastic bottles out of landfills.

The company was recently recognized for the third straight year by the nonprofit B Lab. The B Corp Best for the Environment list honors businesses that earned an environmental score in the top 10 percent of more than 1,200 Certified B Corporations from over 120 industries on the B Impact Assessment.

Creating products that use IntelliLoft recycled material can use up to eight times less energy than it takes to manufacture the same material new. The company’s eco-friendly, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Montana is committed to near-zero-waste pet toys, and has diverted nearly 8.2 million plastic bottles from landfills.

“The employees of West Paw Design could not be more proud of this acknowledgement,” Williams said. “Since 1996, we have worked hard to bring joy to people and their pets as well as do our part to take care of the planet.”

Eco-Friendly Felines
On the cat side, organic catnip has been available for years, but few companies have embraced this expensive form of catnip in manufacturing.

Honest Pet Products integrates an “earth-first” approach and fair-trade agreements in all of its products, focusing solely on the use of sustainable hemp fabrics, organic wools, catnip, oils and extracts in all of its toys and shampoos. The company’s wool balls for cats are handcrafted by rural Mongolian women in certified fair trade conditions. This supports the impoverished farmers of Mongolia and also protects snow leopards by giving farmers an alternative to killing the animals that occasionally take their sheep.

“The Eco Pouncer toy was one of our first natural cat toys, and it stimulates cats for hours of safe, natural exercise and fun,” said Mary Wolff, founder of Honest Pet. “Our new Fetchin’ Stick dog toys come in three sizes. Inside each Fetchin’ Stick is a core of hemp rope surrounded by compressed wool, which allows the toy to float. Each toy is screen-printed with nontoxic, lead-free, water-based, eco-friendly ink.”

Bavarian Cat Toys, from Aumueller Korbwaren, are stuffed, soft toys featuring valerian, lavender and anise. Valerian has an invigorating effect on cats, inspiring active play. The included herbs are the highest grade available, and the toys are handcrafted in Germany. They are available in a variety of shapes and colors, including a Christmas Collection and an extra-large, cat-sized pillow.

“Our toys are filled with organic spelt,” said Stacey Gelkopf, project manager at Bavarian Cat Toys. “This provides the cushiony feel in a natural way (no poly filler or other man-made stuffing), and it also helps to keep revitalizing the valerian for long-lasting appeal. As the cat plays with the toy and turns it over, the surface of the valerian root gets broken up by the organic spelt—continually reactivating it.”

Sustainable Toys
There are many things to consider when stocking a natural toy. Earth-conscious consumers appear willing to pay a premium if they know the purchase helps the environment, yet they still rely heavily on retailers to educate them about safety and benefits. Retailers should be able to explain if toys have been tested for dangerous chemicals, and whether products are humanely sourced and manufactured using eco-friendly, responsible practices.

“Just as pet parents are paying close attention to food labels, they are now turning their attention to other pet products that are natural, organic, environmentally friendly and beneficial to their pets’ well-being, including toys,” said Joel Kaplan, president and CEO of Tall Tails. “We have seen an uptick in demand for natural toys that not only stimulate playtime, but also have other benefits such as natural ropes that have teeth-cleaning benefits.”

Tall Tails recently unveiled its all-natural three-piece gift sets for dogs that include a fleece blanket, a Waterwoof Pad with triple-layer protection and a Squeaky Soft Bone fleece toy.

As the unregulated natural category expands, it’s logical that it would begin to self-regulate to protect those who are using sustainable, natural materials and eco-friendly manufacturing processes. Planet Dog is a founding member of the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition and one of the leaders in eco-friendly manufacturing processes.

“Planet Dog has been thinking globally and acting doggedly since 1997, and we remain committed to the notion that our values bring us our value,” said Stephanie Volo, chief retail officer and partner at Planet Dog. “We look forward to a productive and successful collaboration with other leaders in the industry to put sustainability at the forefront of the pet industry, which will strengthen the industry as a whole while protecting our most valuable resource: our planet.”

In 2011, Spot Ethical Pet equipped its Bloomfield, New Jersey, facility with 1,472 solar panels in an effort to operate solely on solar power. The investment has reduced the company’s internal operating costs while contributing toward a cleaner environment. The solar panel system has reduced CO² emissions by 861,000 pounds a year—the equivalent of eliminating the CO² emissions from driving 978,000 miles. The company’s sustainability goals also extend to its Spot products, where Planet Dog utilizes recycled and natural materials whenever possible.

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