When the occasion comes to do some gift shopping for a child, such as around their birthday or the holidays, one of the first ideas is to buy them a new toy. However, with every shiny new gift added to a toybox comes another piece of plastic that will likely end up in a landfill when playtime is over.
At least 3.5 million tons of plastic and other solid waste are produced in the world each day, which is 10 times the amount produced a century ago, according to World Bank researchers. In the toy industry, “90% of toys are made from petroleum-based plastic” according to Big Future Toys.
This means rubbish and previously-loved toys are piling up in junkyards or overflowing into oceans with no place else to go, as well as creating greenhouse gases that worsen climate change. As issues of pollution and a worsening climate become increasingly concerning, it is not surprising to feel anxious and helpless about the worsening environment children grow up in.
Despite these challenges, there are many achievable habits that can be adopted to play a part in reducing negative environmental impact. Regarding children’s toys, many sustainable alternatives to purchasing brand-new, cheaply-made, and nonrecyclable or non-degradable plastics exist.
For example, checking out thrift stores or asking friends and family for second-hand toys are some of the most affordable ways to get toys in an eco-friendly way. Even if the toys that are passed on are made of plastic, extending the life of a toy by letting another child enjoy it will help make the most of the product before it becomes permanent waste.
For those who would like brand new toys for their children, many sustainable toy shops are other viable options. Going out of the way to find toy shops may feel overwhelming and be an inconvenient change from making the trip to a local toy store, so start with this compiled list of places to get second-hand and new toys to ease the switch to a more sustainable life.
Commonly sold in department stores and toy stores, Melissa & Doug has made its brand one of the most brand affordable and accessible options for sustainable toys. The couple’s company uses Forest Stewardship Council(https://fsc.org/en/) materials, meaning the forest their wood is sourced from is managed responsibly. With timelessness and inclusivity in mind as well, these toys have long lives and can be enjoyed by any and every child.
As the name suggests, Green Toys’ toys are all made green, using recycled plastics such as milk jugs and yogurt cups. All of their products are made with safety first in the U.S. and have had lots of thought put into them, which is evident in their cute colors and beautiful design. Children’s strong love for Disney and Sesame Street characters does not have to be sacrificed for sustainability either with Green Toys as they sell toys incorporating Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and Sesame Street’s Abby and Elmo. Their website is also transparent about how their products are made, from product design to packaging.
Coming from the company popular for their slime putty, Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, Land of Dough’s dough pots are a great eco-friendly alternative to slime. Each pot of dough — made from plant-based coloring, ethically sourced ingredients, and compostable glitter — comes with a small wooden toy made with sustainable forestry practices. The heat used in their facilities is sourced from wind power or reclaimed landfill gas.
Instead of paraffin wax which may only decompose after a few decades, Honeysticks uses beeswax as well as food-grade, nontoxic pigments to make their crayons planet-safe and kid-safe. Besides crayons, they also sell sustainable paints, bath crayons, and coloring books.
A plethora of kids' enjoyment awaits at Clockwork Soldier, with products that appeal to those who like to craft, dress up, or celebrate at parties. The website makes shopping for children easy for parents with options to filter products by age categories in addition to types of toys. Their commitment to sustainability is detailed on their website, such as using FSC-certified(https://fsc.org/) materials, creating minimal waste with packaging, and using earth-friendly inks.
Turning plastic bottles and plastics into marine stuffed animals, Shore Buddies educates kids on sustainability and ocean life. The animals they base their huggable stuffed friends on are ones that are or have been negatively affected or endangered due to ocean plastics. Their proceeds are used to fund educational outreach campaigns and are donated to help the ocean. Other than little plush friends, Shore Buddies also sells reusable straws and creates educational YouTube videos about marine life.
For dolls and accessories, and especially their popular Luggy baskets, Olli Ella has sustainable and ethically-made options so children can grow up with beloved, stuffed companions. They also think of loving mothers by selling women’s clothing.
Covering a broad spectrum of wooden toys and furniture for kids, Tender Leaf Toys has items that many kids will enjoy and will last long-term. Their toys are made from rubberwood and non-toxic paints without formaldehyde, a chemical that is found in most paints, is flammable and can cause irritation or cancer at high levels.
PlanToys makes their wooden toys using ethically sourced rubberwood without ever cutting down a tree. No matter how well-made a toy may be, PlanToys understands that children can quickly outgrow their toys — usually within six months according to PlanToys. Good thing they thought beyond just selling their products and created the PlayCycle program to make passing on their toys from child to child more accessible and streamlined.
With three girls of their own, Steve and Kristin Rho founded Big Future Toys with goals similar to many parents: having sustainable, educational toys that exercise creativity and imagination — but not the noisy or flashing kinds. Their wooden and magnetic toys are made using sustainable wood from FSC-certifiedhttps://fsc.org/en/about-us forests, meaning the forests are managed responsibly. Beyond this, Big Future Toys also plants a tree for each purchase and supports farmers.
From a house to a spaceship to a toucan, YOXO’s construction kits allow kids to build a wide range of their own toys from recycled wood fiber that can be recycled when done with play. With these kits as inspiration, children can even branch out to construct and build inventions of their own using cardboard from around the home for boundless entertainment.
Including a few toys and baby-care items, Brightly curates sustainable swaps for products in all areas of life. Not only are their products made from planet-friendly materials, but the curated items are also vetted and tested by their team and community to assure that they are high-quality and long-lasting. Each product listing goes in-depth by comparing the product to others that are similar, listing the product’s materials, how to care for the product, and how to extend the product’s life.
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