Eco Tip #6

Welcome to the sixth installment of our Eco tip series, where we discuss the environmental impact of toys and the sustainable options available!

One of the most important ways children learn is through play. Children are born curious and will seek out play opportunities wherever they can. Toys are therefore a vital component of a child’s development. When it comes to toys, most parents know about the importance of selecting age-appropriate toys to avoid choking hazards, but less concern is often given to the environmental impact of toys. This is especially the case for plastic toys.

With their vibrant colours, range of designs and low cost, plastic toys have come to dominate the market. According to one estimate by a plastic trade magazine, they now account for a whopping 90% of the toy market. One of the main environmental concerns with plastic toys is that they are not designed to be recycled. Often built with multiple different materials, it can be almost impossible to separate the parts that can be recycled, from those which cannot. This means that most plastic toys will inevitably make their way into landfills – where they will take hundreds , if not thousands of years to break down, whilst leaching toxins into the environment.

But it’s not just the environmental impact of plastic toys that is of concern. Research has highlighted how some of the chemicals used in plastic toys could be harmful to human health. Although the full extent of the health effects of plastic toys are not yet fully known, one common group of chemicals, called phthalates – which are used to soften toys – have been linked to asthma, breast cancer, and other health issues. 

Luckily there is a growing number of brands supplying eco-friendly and chemical free toys made from sustainable wood and recycled materials. Below you can find a list of some of the best sustainable toy brands we could find. Whilst out and about shopping, there are a few key things to look for when buying sustainable toys. Eco friendly toys are most often made from wood, but it is important to keep a look out for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label to ensure the wood is sustainably sourced. Eco friendly toys are not just made of wood though. There are a range of other great sustainable materials, including organic cotton and wool or natural rubber which is non-toxic, breathable, and biodegradable. It is also important to remember that you don’t have to just buy new toys. Emphasis should be placed on buying second hand. This will mean that the children will get the excitement of new toys, without the environmental impact of producing and shipping new toys and often has the added benefit of costing less. Facebook marketplace is a fantastic place to start, enabling you to find the exact items you are looking for, but charity shops are also a great option and you will be supporting good causes. 

Another thing you could do is to cut back on the number of toys you buy – drawing on the Rethink, Refuse and Reduce elements of the 8 R’s. This doesn’t mean the children at your setting have to go without, in fact the very opposite is true. In the case of toys, less is indeed more. One study conducted by University of Oxford Professor Kathy Sylva, who observed more than 3,000 children between the age of 3-5 years, concluded that “when children have a large number of toys, there seems to be a distraction element, and when children are distracted, they do not learn or play well”. This result is echoed by other studies, including one by the University of Toledo, which found that “when provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively”. In fact, children have such vivid imaginations that even without toys, they are still able to use their creativity and imagination to create games, play and have endless fun. The key takeaway when buying toys should be to buy fewer, but better toys – check out the poster below to find out what makes a good toy. 

Arguable more important is to spread the message to your families, as the home is where most toys end up. One of the reasons for this is that they are everywhere – in gift bags at parties, meals at fast food restaurants, in cereal boxes etc. Children grow fast and their interests and abilities can shift just as quickly. This can result in them quickly losing interest and the toys finding their way into the bin. One poll by the British Heart Foundation found that nearly a quarter of all parents admit to throwing away toys whilst they are in perfect working condition. The same poll also found that on average, children have four toys that they have never played with. There are lots of great options available for parents, including the Toy Box Club, which delivers a box of gender neutral, age-appropriate toys, books, and puzzles to your door. At the end of each month, they collect your toy box and swap it for a new one with a different set of toys. The old box is then thoroughly cleaned and sent out to another family. Why not also encourage your parents to swap toys among their family or friends, or even other nursery parents, to use toy libraries, or buy second hand.