Toy Story

G Magazine

Jayne D'Arcy shares some easy and creative ways to cut the environmental cost of kids playthings


Credit: Wikimedia

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It's birthday time again and part of me is dreading it.

My son is turning three and I know our friends and relatives have been hitting the toy stores to stock up on presents for their favourite boy. More junk.

His already oversized truck will undoubtedly be upsized and, after this birthday, his car collection will be able to fill a shopping centre car park.

I thought about holding a 'no presents' party this year, but baulked when I imagined the word 'spoilsport' would be bandied about and my request ultimately ignored because it's his, not my, birthday. Fair enough.

I've done my bit - I bought him a smart fair trade shirt made by Tibetan mothers. That's it.

Now, I'm looking around his bedroom and our small inner-city courtyard and wondering which old toys will have to go to make room for the gleaming new ones.

Once you pry them away from the child in question (why do children always want to play with the toys in the op shop-destined bag?), it's easy to find them new homes.

There's old-school (donating to charity, day-care centres or toy libraries, passing it to neighbours and friends or holding a garage sale); and new school (internet-based eBay and freecycle).

And, of course, there's storing the good stuff for future offspring. But it's how it all got there in the first place that's perplexing.

How do children accumulate so much stuff? Blame us adults. We've been sucked in.

TV and magazines tell us that more stuff makes our kids busier, smarter, happier and more popular: 'Don't deny your children!' 'Make sure your house has a toy room and fill it to the brim with toys'. Imagine how much material 18 years of that attitude will accumulate. It's a landfill nightmare.

There is a definite 'keeping up with the Joneses' issue here, too.

Mums and dads hang out with other mums and dads. It's what keeps us sane, but we tend to compare and compete (just a little). The mums in my mothers' group subscribed to the 'more is marvellous' theory, and I didn't.

If only the Joneses were reducing consumption, buying fair trade toys and becoming members of the local toy library! Instead, we'd return home and I'd feel guilty that my son didn't have half the toys the other kids had.

Eco options
If I'd joined a toy library (my local one costs $55 per year) he would have had just as much big plastic stuff, only I could give it back every three weeks. Some toy libraries even stick to wooden toys and avoid the plastics.

Most of my son's toys come from op shops and garage sales. It's cheaper than buying toy shops (at around $1 a toy) and I actually think that if these toys have managed to stay together though the tantrums of one or two owners, they will survive my son. Even his favourite bunny came from an op shop.

I could be more resourceful. I remember swinging under a tree on a swing made from an old car tyre with holes punched in it so the rainwater would drain out. These days we buy a plastic children's swing.

We're really out of the habit of re-using, almost to the point of thinking it's not good for kids to be playing with 'rubbish'.

My son's been playing with two used bike tyres for weeks and I keep wanting to throw them out, as they're 'rubbish'. But it's time to think of them as 'toys'.

I used to put the paper foil rolls straight in the recycling, but Play School is on the money. Kids really do love playing with that stuff.

It seems old-fashioned, but our parents and grandparents had it right when they collected drawers full of odds and ends for cutting and pasting.

My changes? I'm making the rest of this year a 'buy no toys' year. We're joining the toy library. We're taking our plastic bags, egg cartons, boxes and cardboard rolls to day-care (toilet rolls, curiously, are not welcome but they're desperate for the rest).

As for presents to give to other kids? Fair trade it is, and they'll be wrapped in the wonderful drawings my son does on a daily basis.