Earth-Kind Toys: A Simple How-To
"I want to be more eco-friendly in my toy choices, but I don't know where to start."
I hear you! It's great you want to do better.
Making 90% of toys from petroleum (plastic), and shipping 90% of them from far away, releases so much CO2 we'd need to plant 1 billion trees to absorb it. Meanwhile most of them get lightly used - and then end-up in landfill or incineration.
So, there's a lot of good we can all do by choosing more eco with our kids' toys. Here are some simple principles to guide you: reduce, reuse, recycle (and micro-activism!)
We can't all do it all, all the time - but let's all do something, as much as we can. Make the goal better, not perfect.
1. Reduce1a. Aim for fewer, better toys that get used more often, for more years. Not just by your family but by the family you pass the toy on to:
- Manage close friends' and family's gifts with suggestions, wishlists (our website offers this), and/or "all chip-in to buy 1 better gift s/he will actually use";
- Manage kids' expectations - easier if you start when they're small! E.g.:
- "Whatever other families do, in this family we ask Santa for 1 gift."
- Set a pattern of (small number) of gifts at birthdays;
- Behave like pre-loved toys are totally normal;
- If you don't want them to ask for plastic-tastic toys, don't show them the catalogue of a plastic-tastic toystore, and don't bring them there to choose their gift!
- "Strictly no gifts" party invitations - divert people's generosity to a charity donation, a home-made gift, or €5 in a card instead, if necessary;
- Choose toys that will last:
- Well-made, sturdy;
- Open-ended (to appeal to more age groups) - like blocks;
- Electronics-free (to avoid that "broken unfixable toy"); and
- For soft toys, machine-washable.
- Natural or recycled materials - wood, cardboard, bioplastic, or certified-safe recycled plastic from a producer you trust; and
- Made as locally to you as possible. So few toys are made in Ireland, we define 'local' as 'made in Europe' - vastly closer than China, where 80% of all toys are made.
- ...95% of toys in our toystore meet both these criteria, and the other 5% are clearly indicated in CAPITALS in the product title :-).
1c. Minimise trash by choosing toys with plastic-free packaging. Cardboard, paper, home-compostable films like NatureFlex, and sometimes nothing at all, are totally sufficient to pack most every toy in our experience. Wet products like playdough and paint are a challenge - recycled plastic, or glass are the best we've found so far.
- Get toys pre-loved:
- From friends and family (check older relatives' attics - but avoid pre-1990 toys which often don't meet today's safety standards);
- On Adverts.ie
- Your local Facebook freecycle group / Olio app / Freecycle.org; or
- Join Preloved Toys Ireland - Imagine, Create, Build Facebook group (message us to be invited);
- Borrow / rent toys...ownership is over-rated! Check our Irish toy libraries map below;
- Extend the lifetime of the toy in your home by rotating, cleaning, and repairing:
- Rotate: put, say, half the toys away for a month, then swap, to maintain the child's interest;
- Repair: Sew-up soft toys yourself (helpful video), use repair materials like FixIts or Sugru to mend hard toys (see our Repair Hacks collection), or send to a local repair service. Sadly the Doll's Hospital is closed for now;
- Keep in clean - tips here.
- When you're done, if they're still playable-with, re-home them:
- With friends / family;
- Offer on your local Facebook freecycle group / Olio app / Freecycle.org;
- Sell on Adverts.ie or on Preloved Toys Ireland - Imagine, Create, Build Facebook group;
- As a last resort offer to a charity shop - it's harder for them to match each toy with a good new home and much of what they take-in ends-up dumped.
Irish toy libraries
...that we know of - please let us know of others to add!
- Pink = anyone can use (and many of these post nationwide)
- Blue = Only available when you're referred by an Occupational Therapist for a child with special needs
3. RecycleIs the toy really no longer suitable for kids to use it? Let's at least get its materials reused:
- Soft toys are welcomed by some dogs' shelters. Failing that, recycle them as textiles - put into a textile bank, or give in a bag marked "for textile recycling" to a charity shop that sells textiles to a recycling company (ask first if they do). See MyWaste.ie guidance here.
- Electrical toys: recycle the batteries (MyWaste.ie guidance here), recycle the battery pack as electrical waste (MyWaste.ie guidance here), and the rest of the toy as a soft or hard-plastic toy, as relevant.
- Hard-plastic toys (including bioplastic) and wooden toys: bring to your local civic amenity centre. If they're single-material, they can be shredded and downcycled into new plastic products. See MyWaste.ie guidance here.
I try and keep the end of the toy's life in mind when buying a new toy!
Let toy retailers and toy makers know you want change!
- Vote with your money - what we all support will flourish (and what we don't won't)!
- Send an email. Let them know what you want. A compliment is as powerful as a complaint.
- Walk-in to a store and ask for what you wish they offered - even if you know they won't have it. For example:
- Walk into a mainstream toystore and ask for the eco section;
- Walk into a mainstream craft store and ask for bioglitter.
We love to learn, if you have suggestions or experiences to share please do!