Demonstrating greater sustainability while maintaining desirability of plush dog toys through life cycle assessments and dog owner participation

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Raker, Cheyenne M.
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Every year, an estimated 634 million dog toys end up in our landfills, which is equivalent to 40,500 tons of waste. These numbers are a result of planned obsolescence due to their short life cycles. Pet businesses induce consumerism by offering dog toys with a limited useful life and therefore creating repeat purchases. Which then leads to millions of toys ending up in landfills every year. This book details the design of a dog plush toy that aims to divert millions of dog toys from the landfill while also decreasing their environmental impact through a life cycle assessment. Additionally, understanding what motivates consumer behavior and how to bring about change was thus seen as key to efforts and strategies to promote more sustainable patterns of consumption of dog plush toys. The project answers the following question: through the lens of a life cycle assessment (LCA), is it possible to design a sustainable dog toy that dog owners are willing to buy? Information gathered from a literature review and several interviews with experts in both the pet and sustainability industry were conducted to understand the problem space in three key areas: • current pet industry market • current sustainability market • target demographic and their habits and desires. From here, the ethnographic research below helped to understand dog owner’s desires and purchasing habits in the forms of: • 1 online survey completed by 300+ dog owners • 8 online interviews • 6 exploratory visits to dog toy stores. This research highlighted that plush squeaker dog toys were the favorite amongst dogs and dog owners. This insight led to an initial LCA calculation using Okala Impact Factors to establish a baseline of their current environmental impacts and an overall understanding of their entire product life cycles. The calculation revealed a significant finding that the extraction of the raw materials in the design of dog plush toys had the highest environmental impact. After collecting all the data, affinity and systems mapping were then used to develop the design criteria. One insight came through regarding the usage of a single material. If a dog toy consists only of a single material, it minimizes raw material extraction. Therefore, requiring no disassembly and consequently being easily recyclable. This insight was an important aspect of the design. Many rounds of concept development and ideation got conducted as new insights and information came regarding the recyclability of dog toys. To minimize the materials collected for manufacturing inspiration came from a previous design project. The project used upcycled t-shirts to create a braided rope dog tug toy. Instead of using the t-shirts as rope, an idea came to use them as stuffing for the toy. Which consequently included the added benefits of reducing separation anxiety in dogs from several articles found online. This idea had several challenges associated with the durability, safety, and recyclability of the dog toy. After several rounds of testing to assess and mitigate these issues, one final concept got narrowed down after meeting the following: solution viability, all design criteria, and all three needs of desirability, profitability, and sustainability. The final prototype came to be a dog plush squeaker toy. It flips inside out to reveal a printed business reply mail label and, therefore, can easily be placed in the mailbox to send to a textile recycling facility. The final prototype was tested and evaluated with seven female millennial dog owners (to match the target demographic) to understand levels of desirability and suggestions for improvement. Once the feedback was collected and addressed into the final design, an LCA calculated and determined its overall environmental impact versus a standard plush toy found at current pet stores. The calculation showed that the new design had a significantly lesser impact. Also, 100% of dog owners stated they would be willing to purchase the dog toy in the evaluation assessment. Therefore, meeting the needs of desirability. In conclusion, it is possible to design a sustainable plush dog toy that dog owners are willing to buy.
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