The Green Leaf

Challenge: Finding non-plastic toys

December 5th, 2011
It seems inevitable that you'll end up with a household full of plastic toys, by hand-me-down, gift or purchase, these days.

Plastic, plastic, plastic. It seems inevitable that you'll end up with a household full of plastic toys, by hand-me-down, gift or purchase, these days.

The other day, I walked into a toy store to shop for Christmas gifts, and discovered that 95 percent of everything in there was — plastic.

Other than a small section which featured wooden toys, everything else was plastic, from the beloved Mr. Potato Head to the popular LEGOs to Barbie's convertible car.

This is the generation of plastic toys — from plastic action figures to plastic building sets, fire trucks, cars, plastic play kitchens, plastic guitars, plastic telephones, plastic drumsets, plastic ride-on toys — even outdoor slides, tables, chairs and playhouses made up entirely of plastic.

I understand why plastic is so popular — it's easily moldable into all shapes and colors and sizes, it's waterproof and lightweight. And some of them are pretty cool — there are toys that talk, teach the alphabet, play music, whirl and light up at the push of buttons.

It's inevitable that you'll have some plastic toys in your household, whether by hand-me-down, purchase or gift. I guess if you buy a used plastic toy, it's better than a brand-new one, but then eventually it'll have to be passed on to someone else or go to the landfill. And plastic doesn't break down for hundreds of years.

Having recently been horrified at the sight of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (most of it plastic) on Hawaii's shorelines, I'd like to encourage Santa (and Santa helpers) to find alternatives to plastic toys this holiday season.

A selection of non-plastic toys include a wood bead toy, fabric dog book, Melissa & Doug wood puzzles and Pottery Barn stacker.

A selection of non-plastic toys includes a wood bead toy, fabric dog book, Sevi wooden pull toy, Melissa & Doug wood puzzles, Sophie, a rubber giraffe chew toy, fabric ball, books and Pottery Barn farm animals stacker. Photo by Nina Wu.

To be honest with you, it's not easy.

But there are some alternatives. Melissa & Doug's wood puzzles and toys are widely available (I even found a Melissa & Doug wood train set at discount at Ross). You can also, of course, opt for stuffed toys made out of fabric or cloth.


This cute "Fun on the Farm" animal stacker from Pottery Barn is still available online. Other brands include Plan Toys.

Books are also great — they never go out of style. Dr. Seuss is as popular today as he was a generation ago ("Dr. Seuss can moo, can you?" is a blast).

Locally, you can find some "green" toys at Baby Awearness (Read the Let's Talk Toys blog with Julliet Lowe) and Little Sprouts. Some options include Green Toys, which makes toy trucks and cars and play sand toys made from recycled plastic.

In Let's Talk Toys, Lowe says to consider: 1) Is it about quality or quantity? A quality toy lasts for a lifetime versus a cheaply made quantity toy which breaks in a short time. 2) Is the toy beautiful? Toys made from natural materials are usually more satisfying than those made from plastic, particle board or other synthetic materials. 3) Does the toy smell? Some toys have a strong plastic or perfumed smell.

I like the idea of quality over quantity, especially when you know the novelty factor is only going to last for so long before your kid moves on to another toy.

It's not easy, but this holiday season, challenge Santa to find some non-plastic toys.

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