Mass-manufactured plastic toys usually end up in the trash bin – and in our landfills – as soon as children tire of them and move on to yet another shiny new toy. Many parents and advocates for the environment now promote eco-friendly wooden toys to help reduce waste.
Our growing plastic toy consumption
According to the NPD Group, the Australian toy industry had its best-performing month of 2020 in March, with a 69% dollar increase and 29% unit sales increase in the last week. The industry had the strongest growth of all global major markets, surpassing the United States and United Kingdom.
A report by Mordor Intelligence also predicts that the toy market will grow at a CAGR of 4.5% from 2019 to 2024 as well as generate revenues of over $120 billion by 2023.
Cheap, trendy and bright-coloured plastic toys account for as much as 90% of the global toy market. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) considers the toy industry as the most plastic-intensive in the world.
Our plastic toy problem
Some of the first commercial plastics, including celluloid and Bakelite, were developed in the early 19th century. These materials proved to be a cost-effective choice for toy makers who could mass-manufacture the same designs using moulds.
Traditional materials like wood and metal, on the other hand, made it more challenging for toy makers to reproduce their designs at scale.
This posed two problems – first, mass manufacturing allowed for the excessive consumption of toys. Before the 20th century, children owned very few toys, often playing with the same toys passed down from their parents or older siblings. These were durable toys like rocking horses, dolls and wagons.
Today, the average household owns 71 toys while the average child receives up to $6,500 (USD) worth of toys in their lifetime. Further many of the plastic toys being mass manufactured today are of poor quality and have shorter life spans – when they break, or when children tire of them, these items often end up in landfills.
Second, plastic almost never decomposes and is quite difficult to recycle. Even when these toys contain recyclable components (i.e. metal) these materials often can’t be separated from the rest of the toy.
How to minimise plastic toy waste
Experts advise parents to look to the enduring quality of traditional toys to help reduce plastic toy waste. The well-made, heavy-duty toys of yesteryear placed the focus on quality, not quantity. Teachers Choice offers a wide range of educational wooden toys with classic designs that your children will love.
Further experts recommend toys made with sustainable materials like cotton, wool, metal, natural rubber, and wood. These materials are not only easier to recycle, they’re generally safer for your children as well – commercial plastics have been shown to contain phthalates, or chemicals used to soften toys, which have been linked with a host of health issues and birth defects.
When choosing wooden toys, it’s generally advisable to choose hardwoods like maple and birch. These hardwoods are highly durable and less likely to splinter when dropped or banged against a hard surface.
Experts also recommend choosing sustainably sourced wood as a viable alternative to commercial plastic.
It’s worth noting that not all plastics are “bad” – some mainstream toy manufacturers have started using sugarcane plastic. Made from sugarcane, wheat, sugar beet, and other feed stocks, this eco-friendly material is easier to recycle after it has served its purpose.
Other ways to minimise waste
- Donate to toy libraries – If your child tires of a toy that is still in good usable condition, consider donating it to a toy library. This will help prolong the lifespan of the toy and bring joy to other children’s lives.
- Think activities, not toys – To keep children from getting bored, you need to build playtime around a variety of activities. The toys are only there to facilitate and enrich play, but they don’t necessarily have to be the main event. Educational toys, for example, promote learning through natural processes that aid in children’s development. Coming up with imaginative and exciting activities will help you get more use out of your child’s toys.
- Buy less – You can step out of the cycle of wastefulness by buying less and not contributing to the demand for commercial plastic toys in the market. Children are generally receptive to ideas, and teaching them the effects of plastic pollution on the world’s ecosystems might even encourage them to avoid low quality commercial plastic toys of their own volition.
- Buy second hand – If you want to buy more toys, why not buy used? Similar to the concept of toy libraries, buying second hand can help extend the lifespan of toys that are still in perfectly good condition.
Being selective about the toys you bring into your home is one of the best ways to reduce plastic toy waste. Teachers Choice is here to help parents find some of the best eco-friendly wooden toys in Australia. Visit our shop for a wide range of teacher-recommended educational toys today.