Earth Day Q&A with Jim Barber of Luke's Toy Company

Written by: Cody McBurnett

It’s no secret that we love a classic. Luke’s Toy Factory designs toys with an old school wooden style, but for the 21st century. With organic, US-sourced materials like maple sawdust, walnut shells, and flax fibers, combined with safe, certified clean plastic pellets to make their toys durable and washable, these are some of our favorite modern heirloom pieces.

Luke’s Toy Factory toys are fun to play with and educational. The trucks are each a 3D puzzle designed for small hands (3 and up), with a bit of wiggle room, so that kids with developing motor skills are not frustrated. The Fire Truck has 5 parts, the Dump Truck and the Tipper Truck each have 4 parts, and the Cargo Truck has 9 parts. All can be mixed and matched with parts from the other trucks, giving littles ones even more to explore as you build your set.

Mix and match

Even better, they’re sustainable. Made out of an innovative material called Wood Plastic Composite (WPC), the toys are more substantial, durable, and wood-like than other 100% plastic toys. Their packaging is made using 100% recycled materials and is also recyclable. And everything Luke’s Toy Factory uses to make their toys—every sourced material, every tool, and every supplier—is based in the USA.

Luke's Toy Company is a team of two father-and-son partners, Luke and Jim Barber, and Mitch Achiron and his son Evan. Each has their specialties and all pitch in to build and ship the trucks. Jim Barber, Managing Partner at Luke’s Toy Factory, answered our questions for Earth Day.

What’s the best part about working with family?

We all know each other very well, so there is a level of trust and respect that takes time to build. We have shared experiences that inform our approach to the company.

Why is it important to you to make your toys as sustainable as possible?

When we started working on this back in 2012, we decided that this was going to be something that that young parents would be looking for in the future. I went to trade shows for materials and manufacturing to try to get a feeling for what would be affordable and safe, and came across the wood plastic composite that we use today. At the time, it was used for outdoor decking material, but we were the first to mold it into toys. Our goal is to use end of life materials and give them a second life in our toys. We also felt that making the toys locally was important, rather than shipping them here from halfway around the planet.

What do you think is a good way to get kids interested in/caring about/for the environment?

If you can get a kid interested in the concept of recycling they can keep that interest for life. Our recycling truck has a set of flash cards that can help start a conversation about recycling with the child. I have had a lot of parents and teachers tell me that the physical act of collecting recyclables is a great way to get started. Kids love doing things, not just talking about it.

Kids love doing things, not just talking about it.

What are the top thing(s) you recommend consumers look for when they are purchasing (environmentally friendly) toys for kids?

Number one is toy safety. Make sure the product passes all US and EU testing. The toys should be phthalate and BPA free. Painted surfaces can chip or flake, so make sure the quality of the paint is excellent. We use dyes instead of paint for this reason. It’s hard to really judge when it comes to sustainability. For instance, a lot of plant based plastics are made with ethanol, which is derived from corn. While this seems like a good thing, remember that corn takes a huge amount of water to grow—over 21 gallons for each ear. You have to consider the entire life cycle of the product. Unfortunately, that information is usually not accessible at the point of purchase. Hopefully parents will demand a way to judge products' sustainability in the future. The whole process of sustainability is a journey, and taking the first step will lead to the next.

The whole process of sustainability is a journey, and taking the first step will lead to the next.

What were some of your favorite toys from childhood? 

I know this sound made up, but I loved to play with trucks in the dirt under our back porch in rural Maryland, where I grew up. We didn’t have a lot of money, so each toy was a treasure. As I got older, we played with Lincoln Logs and the Erector Set ( base model, but it had a motor!). I also had a small set of Lionel Trains, which we set up on rainy days. I think I always liked the idea of toys that interacted with the world around me.

Luke's Toy Company


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