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What Happens to a Toy When It Dies? by Guest Blogger Betsy of Eco-Novice: Going Green Gradually

March 24, 2011

Please welcome one of my favorite bloggers, Betsy of Eco-Novice: Going Green Gradually.  Her thoughtful, articulate posts about her research into greener products and her family’s journey to living more naturally have been wonderful to read!  We’re completing a giveaway this week so please take a look at her blog after you meet her here.

The landfills must be littered with broken and discarded plastic toys.  And I’m sad to say that we have contributed our fair share.  Many were gifts from well-meaning friends and generous relatives.  This year several Christmas toys passed on and were quietly escorted to the garbage can in January.  And just a few weeks ago, both a small plastic car and an electronic phonics toy broke within a single day.  There was no way for me to repair or recycle either toy.

In fact, I have never successfully repaired a plastic toy.  Even if I could imagine a way to repair one of them, I can hardly think of a plastic toy that would merit the effort.  And I’ve probably only owned a handful of plastic toys with the triangular recycling symbol on the bottom.  Even if I did put one of those toys in my recycling bin, I have my doubts about whether it would in fact be recycled by anyone.  Plastic toys also wear out.  After spending a certain amount of time in the sun or in the bathtub, I’m not sure I want my children touching and mouthing a plastic toy anymore, because degraded plastics are more likely to leach toxic chemicals.

To make matters worse, once those un-repairable and non-recyclable plastic toys hit the landfill, I’m pretty sure they are there to stay, alongside the single-use plastic grocery bags, disposable diapers and polyurethane foam mattresses.  Witnessing the demise of many of our plastic toys has given me a new appreciation for wooden toys.

Here are 5 of my favorite things about wood toys:

  • Wood toys are durable. In my experience, they break less often.  If you buy kiln-dried woods with natural non-toxic finishes, you also do not need to worry about your toys leaching chemicals with wear and tear.  I believe that many of my high-quality wooden toys by brands like Maple Landmark, Holgate, and Plan Toys will be treasured and played with for generations.
  • Wood toys are repairable. I have had a very few wood toys break (or, more accurately, fall apart).  But I have been able to repair them quite easily with some non-toxic low-VOC wood glue.
  • Wood toys are made of a safe natural renewable material that children have played with for hundreds if not thousands of years.  As new questions arise about the safety of even “safer” plastics, I feel good about my children playing with wood toys, and about giving wood toys to others’ children.
  • Wood toys are usually open-ended and timeless. Because they are “low-tech,” wood toys tend to facilitate open-ended imaginative play, rather than dictate the child’s behavior.  I believe that a set of wooden ABC blocks has a certain charm that no electronic phonics toy can match.  Which brings me to my next point.
  • Wood toys do not make obnoxious sounds or have flashing lights. I’ve relied on overstimulating electronic toys in my more desperate moments (long car trips, for example).  But deep in my heart, I really despise them.

Which is a better deal: 101 pieces of plastic play food by Step2 (left) for $16.25

or 12 wood vegetables by Plan Toys (right) for $18.95?



I think many purchase plastic toys because they are cheaper.   For example, plastic play food is cheaper than wood play food (see comparison in photos above).  Yet having observed the life-span and versatility of toys over the last 4 years, I believe that wood toys are a frugal investment.  They may cost a bit more initially, but I think your child’s play is an area where you definitely want to go for quality over quantity.   After years of researching safer and more natural alternatives for my children’s products, I’m not completely opposed to plastic toys.  But if I had to do it all again, I would not spend one penny of my own money on plastic toys.

Friday is the last day to enter the giveaway to win a wonderful wood toy from Heirloom Wooden Toys.  To enter the giveaway, click HERE.

Thanks, Betsy!  I love what you said about quality vs. quantity and the frugality of wooden toys over plastic ones.  So many toys end up just junked and I wonder what that teaches kids about the value of things.  We have had our share of plastic toys and computer games, and given the chance I too would have spent way less money on them over the years.  None of that stuff is left, but the wooden toys are either tucked away for grandchildren or are happily having a second life with my niece and nephew.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2011 10:12 pm

    We love wooden toys! My child is 6 months old and already naturally gravitates towards them, I swear. The love for flashing plastic junk is a learned behavior. The only plastic-y thing I really love is our Jumperoo, and there is nothing that offers what it does that isn’t made of plastic. (We did get ours secondhand and may be able to resell it or pass it along as well.)

    • March 25, 2011 6:23 pm

      Hi Janine! I think you’re on to something there – we are in charge of what our kids get exposed to and conditioned to like. If we consciously choose well-made, natural, simple toys then I think it gives kids room to develop their own sense of what they think and like, and will be more conscious teens and adults as a result. And go ahead and love your Jumperoo! Extremism doesn’t work very well in the real world…

  2. March 26, 2011 4:18 am

    I’m gonna have to admit that my son loves the hotwheels more than the wood cars I’ve purchased. But he had the hotwheels first (hand-me-down). At least they’re not all plastic. I’ve tossed the Cheerios cereal made in China all plastic ones. I wish I’d started my kids out on wood and cloth toys. Sigh.

    • April 4, 2011 5:38 pm

      Yep, it’s really hard to go backwards. But even if we can just delay the introduction of (or reduce exposure to) the plastic, electronic, bells-and-whistles toys for a few years, then kids have a little more time to develop a sense of themselves. Besides, I think hot wheels are pretty cool! Kids get to build different tracks, experiment with the physics of jumps, curves, speed and gravity – that’s some quality play right there!

  3. Amber permalink
    September 28, 2011 1:42 am

    Another advantage of wooden toys over many flashing-light, noisy plastic toys is that there are no batteries to constantly replace!

    • September 29, 2011 6:16 pm

      Right! And batteries, in addition to being expensive, must be recycled with the hazardous materials.


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