Sustainability is Enticing
Whenever I walk into a local toy boutique, I'm overcome by the beauty of sustainable toy options. I love buying handcrafted toys for friends with little ones or a birthday present for one of my own three kids—but it's also tempting to want to scoop up a little something for myself. A little wooden mushroom would go perfectly on my desk, and a handcrafted doll would look adorable nestled amongst my books (hey, adults can have fun at the toy store too!)
Sustainable materials and eco-friendly designs are all the rage, and why wouldn't they be? According to the latest research, The Toy Association recognized sustainable toys as a top trend in 2021. Parents want their kids to play with toys made from biodegradable materials that won't clutter our landfills for generations to come. Not only that, but toys made from wood, wool, organic cotton, or other sustainable materials are beautiful to admire for all ages.
More than One Way to be Sustainable
Crystal Blanchard, the owner of ArtBeat Schoolhouse, a private specialty preschool based out of Cochrane, AB, says that sustainable toys are an important way to set the foundation for environmentally conscious young children. However, she defines sustainability a little differently. "If you want to get deep into the definition of sustainability, if you're choosing a [plastic secondhand] toy that may go into a landfill versus a boutique toy, the secondhand plastic toy is a more sustainable option," says Blanchard.
However, if you're looking to purchase brand new a toy, Blanchard recommends choosing a toy made from biodegradable materials that are ideally locally sourced. "I've been doing more of a Waldorf approach," says Blanchard, who recommends moldable beeswax and organic beeswax crayons for craft time. Excellent sustainable brands include Manhattan Toy, Tiny Tales Boutique, Toki Mats, Mili & Lilies, and Tender Leaf Toys. In addition, there are many lovely suggestions for types of toys that are ideal for your child's developmental stage in Peeka & Co's Parent Play Guide.
Blanchard also says that choosing toys that will last is important. Opting out of the cheap toys at the dollar store that might break within a few days or weeks is a great way to show your children that quality toys are an important way to respect the environment. In addition, toys that aren't made to last often contain harmful plastics and corrosive batteries. Blanchard says that in a recent safety course she took, the participants were warned against purchasing cheap toys due to safety concerns, particularly those containing LED lights. "When we make these choices, it starts to influence the way society moves," says Blanchard, who recommends moving towards more conscious buying. Why not save up for a beautiful locally-made toy instead of making many small purchases at a large chain store?
Make the Movement Last
Teaching our children to look at the toy's materials and consider what will happen once they're finished playing with them is a great way to cultivate an understanding of the environmental impact of our own items. For example, consider whether a toy is sturdy enough to last for many years. Perhaps your child can give their well-loved toy to another child once they've outgrown it. Can they do that with a plastic, fast-produced item that isn't designed for many years of play?
"We need to keep the planet sustainable for the generations we raise," says Blanchard. It may sound overly simple, but reminding yourself to reduce, reuse, and recycle is a great way to instill healthy habits around purchasing toys. Try not to overdo it, reuse or up-cycle toys at secondhand shops, and recycle toys when you've outgrown them by passing them along to a friend.
Brianna Bell is an Ontario-based journalist, essayist, and mental health advocate. Brianna launched her career in journalism in 2015, and has so far published hundreds of articles in various print and digital publications. You can find her work in The New York Times, The Globe & Mail, The Guardian, and The Independent.