Plastic Free July Day 24: Toys!

wooden plane toy zero waste

(Back to the challenge summary)

I’m going to talk a lot about my kids this week. They are adorable, I love them deeply, but they have way too many toys and I’m guilty of procrastinating a huge cleanup for too long… I don’t want to throw away everything (that’s the landfill phobia), I have a dream that some of these things could be reused by others and live a happy second life, or be properly recycled because plastic toys can be toxic and I really don’t want to contaminate other families.

This blog post is helping me start my cleanup project. I’m going to share with you what I’ve found on how to live with sustainable toys, and how to reduce the toys tide that enters our homes and transforms into clutter.


plastic toys waste

More than 40% of the toys gifted to kids during the holiday season alone are broken by spring (source).

A quick check on Recycle Where, searching “Toys/Plastic parts”: the result is “Put it in the recycling bin, but the pieces must be clearly marked with the recycling symbol and a number.” → there’s no number on the small toys or the broken pieces, so all this plastic is going to end up in landfills.

SAFETY: I don’t want to scare you, but be aware that the toy industry is really not interested by making sure the toys they make are safe for our kids.

A whole lot of children’s toys are contaminated with industrial chemicals.

After reading all this, I have 2 recommendations:

  • Avoid plastic toys with babies and toddlers who usually chew on toys
  • Get rid of old plastic toys, like the ones donated by your aunt because her kids are now 20 year old, or the old ones found in garage sales.


refuse plastic toys cheap freebies

Kids are an easy target for cheap useless plastic toys and freebies. Birthday parties, stores, in the street, even at the dentist! They will play 2 minutes (sometimes even less) and that’s it, straight to landfills where they will last forever (remember that plastic breaks apart but NEVER decomposes). Plus what do we teach them when we regularly give them all these stuff?

I’m doing my best to Refuse, the 1st and most efficient step in the Zero Waste “philosophy”. It takes a lot of explanations (ok, sometimes I think I scare them a little bit, but just a little bit) and perseverance.

For example, yesterday we went to the dentist. Before leaving they always give us a plastic bag with a plastic toothbrush, a pack of plastic flossers (I hate those!), a plastic toothpaste tube, a balloon and a coin, to get plastic crap in the toy machine. The first times I was weak, I didn’t dare refusing. Now I do it each time, my daughters are on board but they can keep the coin. We bring home the little plastic toys. It’s a win for me, even if it’s not perfect.


I’m not into refusing to buy toys, this is a little too extreme for me. Kids main activity is to play, that’s how they learn, I’m happy mine can discover different games and toys.

  • But buying new really doesn’t make sense: there are so many toys on this planet, we don’t have to continue to make new ones
  • Most of these toys are made of plastic. Second hand toys (as long as they are safe) means avoiding millions of tons of new plastic being manufactured every year. That’s powerful, imagine the amount of pollution and greenhouse gases emissions that could be avoided.
  • Last but not least, opting for second hand is a great way to save money!

1/ Swap: organize a toys swap with your friends, your neighbors, your local moms group, it’s fun. Check out Toy Cycle, a local toy exchange platform. Or find your local Buy Nothing group.

2/ Buy second hand toys: I’m extremely lucky to have a second hand toy store 1 block from my house (Toy Go Round, in Albany). But many second hand stores for kids have a toys corner: in the Bay Area check out Mini-Chic, Chloe’s closet, Monkei Miles, … (we’ll share a more detailed list on Day 28).

When we are invited to birthday parties we always bring second hand gifts (in great condition of course!). And when we organize our kids birthdays, we kindly ask parents to think about second hand gifts. They may find this weird but they usually play along.

Once again, old plastic toys can be toxic for little ones who are very likely to put any colorful stuff in their mouth. If you buy or are given a plastic toy second hand, make sure it’s not too old. And prefer second hand toys made with wood (with non-toxic paints) or cardboard.


If you still have toys in good condition, donations are also a great option!

1/ Second Hand Stores

Places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army accept toys and games in good condition. It’s a great way to ensure that families have access to low-cost toys while helping to fund these organizations.

2/ Local Shelters and Children’s Centers

If you know of a shelter or children’s charity in your area (Homeless Shelter Directory) there’s a good chance that it accepts toy donations. You just need to call ahead to make sure they do. Check also children’s social services office and toy drives organized by schools, hospitals and other local businesses. 

3/ Preschools and Nurseries

I gave many books and toys to my daughter’s preschool, it’s great to see them be reused immediately by other kids. Let you kids know though, they may not understand why their toys are at the preschool and not in their bedroom :-)


mosaic with hospital plastic waste

Let’s face it, it’s inevitable: we always end up with cheap plastic toys, the kind that can’t be donated because nobody wants them. Very small erasers, stickers, very small dinosaurs, balls of all colors and sizes… you know, the Pinata toys!!!

I actually collect them, hoping to find a use for them, maybe a giant mosaic like this one, made by a nurse who collected 10,000 pieces of discarded hospital plastic.

Or in a few years I’ll show the stack to my kids: this is how much waste you generated my loves! :-)


terracycle baby gears recycling box

Toys cannot be recycled by city recycling programs. If you put them in your recycling bin, they will end up in landfills. We mentioned Terracycle many times in previous blog posts, they also have free and paid toy recycling programs. As I’m writing this post, I’m seriously considering buying a small box (I just found out they are 20% off with the code JULY18BOX - I’m not affiliate with this company, just happy to share their offer). It’s $80 but since little plastic toys can’t be reused, recycling is my last resort to get rid of this plastic clutter.

Free Hasbro Program:

Paid program: Baby Gear and Toys.


If you can’t find what you’re looking for second hand and prefer to buy new, please consider supporting eco-friendly toys businesses like these ones.

There are probably eco-friendly toys certifications in the US, I don’t know them but if I find any informations I’ll add them here!

Join the conversation!