Slow Soft Toys

Soft toys have had some bad press in recent years. They can be full of germs and grime. And they often end their lives in landfill / incineration.

And we have to add one more point against them: they're usually made from virgin petro-plastic, in countries over 20,000km away.

But kids love them! My daughter is deep into a phase of imagination play with her soft toys. And I have fond childhood memories of my favourite teddies.

The good news

The good news is: there are eco ways of sourcing and getting rid of soft toys without pollution and waste.

  1. Direct family and close friends to pre-loved or sustainable new soft toys - our sense is, most soft toys are gifted to your child, not bought by you;
  2. Get soft toys pre-loved from friends and family (check older relatives' attics!), on, your local Facebook freecycle group, or join Preloved Toys Ireland - Imagine, Create, Build Facebook group;
  3. Choose soft toys made from natural or recycled materials - we have found (and stock) soft toys made from one or both of 100% organic cotton and 100% recycled polyester - browse them here. For home-made or small-maker toys, 100% recycled polyester stuffing is available at Winnie the Wool Wagon and other yarn stores;
  4. Buy to last, not just for your family but for the one you pass the toy on to. Choose machine-washable and well-made;
  5. Help them last:
    1. Spruce-up toys you have, or new-to-you pre-loved toys (see below for tips on how!)
    2. Rotating toys (putting, say, half of them away for a few months, then swapping) helps keep kids excited to play with the toys they have.
  6. When you're done, re-home with friends / ask your charity shop if they accept soft toys / sell on / offer in your local Facebook freecycle group / sell on Preloved Toys Ireland - Imagine, Create, Build Facebook group / offer to your local dogs' shelter;
  7. Failing re-homing, 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 this). See guidance here.

What about where the toy is made?

A toy is eco-friendly when it's made from natural or recycled materials and made locally. So we should be saying, "choose a soft toy that's made locally in Europe". But toys are textiles - they are handmade - meaning there are very few soft toy makers left in Europe.

The UK's last soft toy factory Merrythought sells exquisite soft toys from £75 up to £350 - if you can afford one, they are heirlooms. More affordable soft toys are all made in lower-cost countries - China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam.

Luckily, what as toy is made from is most important - it determines 80% of the carbon footprint, and all the trash footprint - whilst how far the toy is transported determines "only" 20% of the carbon footprint.

And luckily, there are soft toy makers who are certified by the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) Ethical Toy Programme, which audits factories in lower-cost countries to ensure workers are fairly treated and have a good standard of living - including time off, childcare, etc.

So although we strive to stock toys made in Europe, faced with the choice of "no soft toys" vs "soft toys from natural / recycled materials ethically made far away" we have chosen the latter - for now - and welcome your feedback on that.

Maybe we need a 'slow soft toys' movement, to mimic the 'slow fashion' movement - to spend more on fewer soft toys, use them more for longer, and sell them on when done with. Love to hear your thoughts!

How to spruce-up a soft toy

  • Remove dirt, bacteria, and viruses:
    • Wash in the washing machine (protect inside a bag or pillowcase knotted at the top); or
    • If the label says surface-clean only, vacuum-clean then rub with a warm, soapy cloth; or
    • If the toy's fur isn't plastic you can steam-clean but beware of melting if it is;
    • Allow to dry naturally.
  • Kill mites (which survive washing machines): ;eave in the freezer overnight (dust mites) or for 4 days (bed bugs);
  • Check any attachments like buttons are secure, and sew-up any rips - this video is helpful;
  • Never immerse in water a toy with electronics / batteries.