Think about the way plastic pollution has been reported in recent years and you’re probably picturing plastic packaging, films and microfibres. But Christmas brings a deluge of another relatively short-lived plastic product that has received a lot less attention – children’s toys.
Children’s toys form a large and growing global market worth billions in 2018. Unlike low weight packaging and film, toys often contain far larger quantities of high-quality virgin plastic material – and they usually last a lot longer than their owner’s interest, such is the rapid pace of child development.
We wanted to find out which toys are best for the planet, to help parents make a sustainable choice of gifts for their children at Christmas. Our research considered a wide range of children’s toys and compared high-value branded toys with those that were cheaper and unbranded.
By studying the life cycles of a range of children’s toys, we were able to determine their environmental impact and calculate how much energy goes into making and using each toy throughout its lifespan. We calculated the energy used to extract and process the raw materials, ship the product, deliver any power requirements such as batteries as well as energy that is lost, used or recovered through recycling or disposing of the toy at the end of its life.
We found that toys that are kept longer, resold or donated secondhand, have a lower yearly environmental impact overall, as this is likely to negate the manufacture and purchase of new toys. Toys that maintained their interest and relevance to children over time, had multiple uses or could added to as part of a collection had the greatest potential for longer lifespans.