A new pilot scheme to keep pre-loved toys in the circular economy and out of landfill has been launched across Zurich in Switzerland this month with plans being drawn on scaling the business across Europe and even the UK.
Called Circle Toys, the organisation is currently in incubator mode where it is operating from its headquarters in the Swiss economic capital. The team acts to collect old and pre-loved toys from households across the city to resell via its online platform.
Having emerged from the start-up accelerator programme, Start Up Weekend, the platform has been active for just three weeks but in that time is already beginning to make its presence known among families in the local area looking to clear out old toys.
Established by Fatma Belbahi and the Circle Toys team of just three others, the platform works as a collection system. Circle Toys customers simply log a collection with the team who will then travel to the homes or pick-up locations to collect the used toys. The team will then perform a quality control on the toys before listing them on the Circle Toys online shop where they are resold at a discounted price. In exchange for their donated toys, customers receive vouchers to use to purchase toys back from the platform.
“We are facing a problem with the recycling of toys right now and there is no solution,” Fatma Belbahi told Products of Change. “Circularity is the only solution to avoid this waste that is being created by the over-consumption of toys. The problem is the volume of them that are out there. Even charities in Switzerland are refusing toys at the moment because they have too many of them.”
Through Circle Toys, Fatma and the team hope to better incentivize families and young people to shop in a more circular way, choosing to purchase second hand rather than new by offering money off their online shopping.
At the time of speaking with Products of Change, Circle Toys was just two-weeks into its pilot scheme at which point it had already performed ten pick up and made 15 sales. At the end of the month the team will present the results of the scheme to a board of investors who will decide upon the fate of the initiative’s potential to scale-up.
“Once we prove to these investors that the concept works, we will begin to develop this across other cities in Switzerland,” said Fatma. “We will take this to all the major cities here before looking towards other countries in Europe, maybe even the UK.”
For now, customers can only purchase second hand toys from the team via its online Circle Toys website. However, Fatma is developing plans for a brick-and-mortar store for high street presence to help counter the perception that toys are better bought new. As part of its roadmap, Circle Toys is also considering to introduce concessions with leading supermarkets in Switzerland to sell its pre-loved items.
“The challenge for us right now is logistics,” said Fatma. “It takes a lot of time to collect toys, bring them in for quality control and, of course, cleaning – which is super-important. We have developed a process of checking they work, cleaning them, logging them in the inventory, and putting them on the online store. But it takes time and energy. So, we are still learning how to improve this process and facing the challenge of how to scale this.”
The concept is part of a circular economy incubator organised by the Zurich Impact Hub, a programme that is pushing hard for sustainable change across the city. It will conclude with Circle Toys’ presentation day on 25thApril.
“Our goal is to make the circular economy as accessible to people as possible. We need to show people that it’s OK to purchase second hand and that you can buy second had toys for children – it’s about changing the mentality here in Switzerland,” Fatma explained.
For items that don’t pass the quality control checks after collection, conversations are being had with local recycling companies including Switzerland’s SENSE for the processing and recycling of toys made from easy-to-recycle materials. However, it remains a bone of contention for Fatma that there simply isn’t a solution for toys that are beyond repair.
“It’s something we still need to figure out – what to do with toys that are too damaged,” she said. “Fortunately, we have found the majority of the toys collected are as good as new. So our goal is to provide a solution as well as provide education around the circular economy. Partnering with schools will be a great way to achieve this and build circular economy teaching into the education system.”