Blog Post

Eco Surprise™ - a zero waste alternative to plastic surprise toys

A guest post by Rachael from Quirky Earth.


Founded in the UK, Quirky Earth is a brand on a mission to provide an eco-conscious alternative to plastic surprise toys. Creator Rachael shares her story.


I’m Rachael; mum, and creator of Eco Surprise™, the sustainable wooden surprise toy. Eco Surprise™ was born soon after a toy clear-out when I realised just how much plastic tat we’d accumulated! A plastic surprise egg here, a kid’s meal toy, party bag fillers, a few children’s magazine toys there had all added up.


The final straw came when I treated my daughter to a popular surprise toy and was truly shocked to see the multiple layers of plastic packaging involved. I knew that mixed plastics were notoriously difficult to recycle and inevitably this means that most will end up in landfill.


My daughter, like many of her friends, seemed to crave these little plastic surprise toys and wanted to collect them all. I just wished that there was a sustainable alternative available. That moment was the beginning of an idea that led to Eco Surprise™.

Photo credit: Ruth Joy Photography.

Wheels set in motion


Not long afterwards, (keeping my crazy plans to myself!) I set to work to create a surprise toy that was fun, but without plastic, waste, and without the mum-guilt! I also wanted to create a toy that could be collected into sets, which retained its play value, and that could be passed onto future generations. I also knew that the packaging had to be minimal and biodegradable and so the research began.


I loved the Waldorf approach to toys, where less is more. Research has shown that simple toys, particularly those made from wood, encourage creative, open-ended play and promote cognitive development, and motor skills. So I used these principles in the design process.

Photo credit: Ruth Joy Photography.

Prototyping


Ok, so I’ve failed to mention so far that my background is in ecology, biology and science. When I’m not making toys I work part-time in a research laboratory. So designing toys, making toys, or running a business were all completely new to me! There was a huge learning curve ahead of me as I navigated design software, material design and safety, biodegradable materials etc. I spent countless hours researching the very best materials that were safe, sustainable and non-toxic.


However, I set to work determined to put this idea into action. A local workshop helped me to create the first prototypes, and it was a great feeling to hold the embryonic Eco Surprise™ toys in my hand! But then I went and jumped way out of my comfort zone, and despite being a power tool-phobe, I bought a scary looking scroll saw! I started to hand cut my own wooden prototypes in my garage. Through trial and error (and rigorous safety testing) I came up with our first designs.


After realising that each toy took many hours to create, with cutting, sanding, painting, and sealing I knew that I couldn’t do it alone. So I searched for manufacturers to help me create the volumes that I needed. Again this phase took time as I had to find the right supplier who understood my vision, and was happy to take on the strict sustainability, no-plastic, non-toxic, ethos. I’ve now found a great team of fair trade artisans in Sri Lanka who share my ethos and are also a plastic-free operation. The team handcraft my designs from sustainably-sourced rubber wood and hand paint the toys with non-toxic, water-based paints.


Eco Surprise™ Lost World Range.

Releasing the idea to the world


I created a simple website to test out my idea, and to see if others shared my enthusiasm for Eco Surprise™. I remember the nerve-wracking day that I pressed ‘publish’ on my website and announced it to my friends on social media! To my great excitement (and relief!) people absolutely loved the idea. My phone just blew up with distributors, parents, eco party planners, zero waste stores, refill stores, gift shops and journalists! I was even contacted by authors who wanted their book characters turned into toys. It was incredible!


Not just a surprise toy


I’ve since realised that my ‘surprise toys’ have a huge number of uses and are great for educational/SEN settings, story sacks, plastic-free party favours, sustainable stocking-fillers, rewards, ‘invitation to play’ shelves, and the list goes on! Eco-friendly party planners looking for plastic-free party favours have been so enthusiastic about Eco Surprise™. They really do make wonderful sustainable, plastic-free favours.


The ranges; Lost World, Farm, Safari, Forest, Birds, (and growing!) are perfect for animal/nature-themed parties too. The party guests can continue to collect them long after the party has ended and build a set, or swap with their friends.


Eco Surprise™ Safari Range.

The future


I’m currently designing Series 2 of Eco Surprise™ which I can’t wait to release later this year! These will be suitable for children from 10 months upwards and have new reduced biodegradable, funky packaging.


I’ve realised just how much I’ve learned through the process and I’m excited to bring all of my ideas to life! I have so many toys and ranges that I’d like to create, the future is exciting!

Eco Surprise™ Safari new biodegradable packaging design.


I’ve found the zero waste, sustainable community to be so supportive and friendly. I really do love speaking with eco business owners and people who are all trying to do their bit for the planet. Eco Surprise™ are available to purchase in single or party pack sizes from our website www.quirkyearth.com.


If you’re interested in stocking Eco Surprise™ in your store or as part of your plastic-free party bag offer then please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!


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Facebook: facebook.com/quirkyearth

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