The Myopia of Microplastics

Put simply, plastic is killing our environment.  Plastic beads, sequins and glitter, all considered “microplastics” — plastics 5 millimeters and smaller — that are used in plush toys, are devastating our environment by polluting our oceans and causing suffocation, starvation and the drowning of marine life.

In our industry examples of these microplastics are “beads, beans or pellets”, sequins and glitter, and for many manufacturers these materials are primary components of plush as well as other toys.  And while companies use these materials to try to improve the attraction of their products, the damage these microplastics cause to our environment, regardless if they are made with recycled materials, is undeniable.

Scientists estimate 8 trillion microbeads in the U.S. alone are making their way into our waterways — daily.  Add to that a variety of other types of plastics, including sequins, beads and glitter that are not captured in the recycling process because they are too small, and you have an environmental crisis that continues to grow exponentially.

Our Pledge Against Plastics

While we cannot control the use of microplastics in other industries, we can control what products we source and sell in our stores.

We know that some of the larger plush suppliers rely upon sequins and other microplastics due to recent popularity in order gain a visual competitive edge, but at a tremendous cost to our environment.  We strongly believe these types of products do not fit into the mission of our partners.

That’s why Wildlife Trading Company does not sell plush products that contain beads/beans/pellets, sequins or glitter given the horrific damage these microplastics wreak on wildlife.  We eliminated using plastic bags in all of our retail stores, saving hundreds of thousands of unnecessary pieces of plastic from entering into our environment and contributing to the growing epidemic. In addition to the plastic bags, we are also eliminating the use of glitter tattoos at all of our locations, effectively eliminating another form of microplastic from entering the environment.

Wildlife Trading Company’s eyes are wide open to the microplastic crisis that is unfolding, and we do not want our plush to be a part of the problem. That’s why you’ll never see plush that contains these materials in our stores. We are making every effort, throughout our organization, to eliminate microplastics period.

That’s our pledge to uphold the missions and vision of our wildlife partners. As well as our pledge to wildlife and the environment we cherish.

Imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but good for our industry.

We get it. We really do. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and with the recent news that other retail concession companies are partnering with competing plush toy companies to develop their versions of “eco-friendly” plush to compete against our Eco Pals, we quite frankly couldn’t be happier!

That’s because with more vendors producing eco-friendly products, our industry becomes greener and more conservation-minded  and that’s a big win for everyone — zoos, aquariums, cultural attractions, conservationists, and most importantly, our wildlife.

So as the leaders in raising the industry standard, as evidenced by people following us, we wanted to reiterate just how passionate we are about what we do — every single day.

It’s all about walking the talk

Since our founding in 1976, we have built both Wildlife Trading Company and Wildlife Artists Inc. on one singular core value — to create the highest quality products and retail environments that are grounded with a genuine and passionate care for wildlife conservation.  Our team is not just designers, buyers, and retailers, but naturalists, outdoors people and conservationists. Our true passion is wildlife and helping to maintain the delicate balance between “our world” and the world we live in. 

We’ve traveled extensively to Africa, Central America and the Asian rainforests and developed partnerships with local artisans and conservation groups to develop products.    

By working one-on-one with these local artists and conservationists, we are aiding conservation efforts on a grass-roots level that not only help the wildlife, but also help sustain the local economy while yielding truly authentic merchandise for our product lines and stores. 

Conservation and protecting our environment are not just about how we conduct business, but about who we are…it’s in our DNA. As is being genuine and authentic in everything we do and create.

James Ward, WTC CEO, helping wild dogs ensnared with wire traps in Zimbabwa.

So, while others continue to imitate us by developing similar products, we can only hope that they fully take our lead and “walk the talk”. Then we all win.

Doing Good

I’m challenging Wildlife Trading Company to make a positive difference in the world.

Last month was the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Mid-Year meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the home of our very first retail partnership at the Rio Grande Zoo.  Throughout the week, one thing was clear…

Now more than ever, our industry needs to make a positive difference in the world.

The passion for doing good encompasses three areas:

  • Saving endangered species
  • Sustainability
  • Helping people and cultures be more self-sufficient

Wildlife Trading Company is dedicated to be an industry leader in all three areas.  We were proud to present at the AZA Mid-Year Green Summit Reception, where attendees were interested in hearing about our green initiatives.  Our no single-use bag policy in all of our stores (plastic or paper) was a crowd pleaser.

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Wildlife Trading Company’s Retail Manager and BioPark Green Team member, Robin Purley, presenting our conservation efforts at the AZA Mid-Year Green Summit

Well before the AZA meeting, we decided it was time to take an even stronger stance on doing what is right. Overall, our values and value proposition have not changed, but our priorities have. We decided that, moving ahead, we are placing a greater emphasis on partnerships and practices that promote global stewardship; the care, consideration and conservation of culture and nature.

We’ve identified 5 areas of focus:

  1. Consistently improve upon our own environmentally friendly practices throughout the organization; in both our offices and stores.
  2. Become a more proactive collaborator with our partners on:
    • Instituting better conservation practices.
    • Increasing efforts to educate visitors about current challenges and how they can make a difference.
    • Developing more programs to help our partners make a positive change in the world through the conservation, cultural and ecological causes they champion.
  3. Continue to improve sourcing products from eco-friendly companies, using eco-friendly materials, practices and packaging.
  4. Collaborate directly with non-profit organizations to help move their efforts forward.
  5. Represent great art and crafts from “at risk” cultures and ones with a heritage of embracing nature.
    • Culture and conservation are intrinsically tied together.  If cultures can become less at risk, their openness to conservation becomes greater.
    • This initiative will help visitors and buyers better understand and appreciate the quality and artistry of other cultures, while learning of their challenges and supporting them at the same time.
    • We’ll be sharing more about this initiative in the near future.

We’ll be reaching out to many of you to discuss ways we can partner to do good.  Feel free to contact us directly with suggestions and propositions.

Based on current understanding of plastics and how they affect the environment and our food chain, I am challenging Wildlife Trading Company to develop a plan to significantly reduce the amount of plastic in our stores (products and packaging).

I know we are up to that challenge.

Let us know what you are up to.

~ James

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Photo of endangered African Painted Dogs at sunset I took last year.  We’re working to make sure that, in reality, the sun does not finally set on this species.