Trouble in Toyland–The Environmental Impact Of Toys

By Larraine Roulston:

Prior to World War II, children’s toys were manufactured from durable materials and designed to be passed down to succeeding generations. Once metal became scarce, plastics made their grand entrance. Giving these shiny gifts to children soon became very popular. Since that time, toys have become big business, and marketing plastic has grown significantly within that industry. Sadly, however, the carbon footprint of such toys has a negative impact on the very planet that our children will inherit.

A toy often includes different metals to give it special features, thus providing a challenge to recycling efforts. What’s more, Beijing notified the World Trade Organization in July that, due to contamination, they will no longer accept certain types of plastic and other varieties of solid waste for recycling. The New York Times reported in 2014 that chemicals often used in plastic toys have been linked to birth defects, cancer and diabetes, as well as other health issues. As children often put toys into their mouths, they are also at risk if they swallow small pieces. Another issue is that extremely noisy toys can pose a threat to a child’s hearing.

Party loot bags, cereal boxes, fast food restaurants and corporate events at times offer cheap toys or gadgets. The magnitude of these items cannot be repurposed or recycled, nor do they usually last very long. Kevin Brigden, senior scientist at Greenpeace International Science Unit stated, “If it’s a flimsy plastic toy that clearly isn’t going to have more than a lifetime of a few days or weeks, would you really want to be getting that material?”

It doesn’t end there! Companies like Lego promote kits that are designed to be assembled into basically one object. Certain films have followed up with a series of toy characters — some of which have generated more income than the film itself. An entire collection of similar toys is also popular. In addition, many toys are encased in oversized packaging for shelf appeal.

There are solutions, however. For one, we can opt for gifts of wool, fabrics, natural rubber, wood or paper. Be sure to look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo. We also can check out toys crafted by manufacturers who have a sustainable policy. And we can ask large retailers to expand their selection of “green toys.”

Often, board games and other toy gifts in mint condition can be purchased from local thrift stores. Or we can select the gift of experience, such as attending live theatre, or offer to pay for a session of lessons. Scale back on toys by providing alternatives such as giving a monetary gift to a charity of the child’s choice.

There is also the gift of giving up one of your childhood treasures. This week my granddaughters visited us — one of whom has always enjoyed holding my beloved Punkinhead teddy bear. It was the perfect time for me to offer this gift to her. Over the years, the bear’s feet have been mended; his silky hair has been replaced by wool; and his shorts have been lost. Together, we had fun repurposing fabric to make Punkinhead a new wardrobe. I now have a perfect opportunity for reusing fabrics to add a hat, shorts and a jacket, even a little sporty bowtie.

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Larraine writes children’s adventure stories on composting and pollinating. Visit www.castlecompost.com.

Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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