11 Eco-Friendly Tips for Toy Buying and Recycling

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Dec 01, 2015 | Laura Firszt

John Martinez Pavliga/flickrTis the season when many children excitedly look forward to presents of new toys. But whether you'll be celebrating Kwanzaa, Chanukah, or Christmas, it's important to make the holiday a green one. Shop wisely for new toys and upcycle your old ones, and you'll be giving our planet the precious gift of reduced landfills and sustainable consumption.   

Toy Shopping and Care

  1. When buying new, choose toys made from natural, sustainable materials that are easy to recycle, such as organic cotton or wood harvested on a plantation rather than from a forest.
  2. Purchase a few high quality toys, rather than a lot of cheap junky ones. If, like most youngsters, your kids get bored easily, exchange playthings with your fellow parents occasionally to provide more variety.
  3. Often collections of toys (such as plastic animals, artificial food and dishes, or dress-up clothes and costumes) assembled over time are the ones that get played with most. (When he was smaller, my son was very popular for the tea parties he'd throw for the other little boys nearby, who did not have a large set of mini dishes and faux food.) If a few of the objects are mislaid, the collection is still enjoyable.
  4. Try to make toys last. Set a good example yourself by how carefully you treat your possessions. Teach older children the concept of stewardship, taking care of toys, so that once they're outgrown, they can be passed on to others.

Lost or Broken Toys

  1. Improvise to replace toy parts that will inevitably get lost. Sub in colorful pebbles or bright recycled buttons for board game markers, for instance. Make sure the substitutions are child-safe -- flame-resistant, non-toxic, and free of choking hazards, sharp points, or lead paint.
  2. When a toy is broken, even if your handyman skills are on the meh side, you might be able to find a professional repairperson who can make it almost as good as new. I remember my mother sending my favorite toy to the Doll Hospital to recover from a near-fatal accident. What a relief to get her back restored to health!

Passing on Used Toys

  1. Recirculate no-longer-wanted items via a toy exchange or library. If your town doesn't have one, you might want to start one. This could be an excellent way for your shy child to meet some new friends, outside of school.
  2. Donate to organizations such as women's shelters, hospital children's wards, or daycare centers. Be sure that any toys offered are in good repair, complete with all pieces (plus instructions if applicable), and safe. Make sure that toys are clean, as well. Many items, such as stuffed animals and plastic Legos, can be washed. Check care instructions.


  1. Look at old toys with new eyes. Instead of seeing them for their original function, consider them as assemblages of parts, pieces which you can use in crafting. Use your imagination to think out of the toy box and you may be able to come up with a truly unique object like a lamp, for instance.
  2. You might be able to put broken, unfixable, un-upcyclable (yes, we know that's not really a word) toys -- or parts of them -- into the recycling bin. Check that plastics are the appropriate type of resin. Anything with a computer chip or screen will need to be recycled with other electronics.
  3. New organizations are starting up that may be able to use your previously unrecyclable toys. For example, TerraCycle® is an international business with an amazingly green purpose: In the company's own words, it "collects difficult-to-recycle packaging and products and repurposes the material into affordable, innovative products." Happen's Toy Lab of Cincinnati accepts donations of plastic and rubber broken toy parts, and invites children and adults to transform them into imaginative new creations for a small fee. You can even host a very green birthday party for a group of young toy builders there.  

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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