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Art & Culture

Greener Toys: Giving Plastic A New Life

Rethinking material choices for our children's futures.

By December 17, 2020January 13th, 2021No Comments
© ecoBirdy, Charlie Chair

Plastic toys have been a staple of the modern family home for decades, but as many eco-friendly toy brands have shifted to other materials, what about toys made from recycled plastic?

From innovation to overuse?

Despite the recent shift to other materials, plastic remains a popular choice for toy makers. Many iconic playthings, such as Lego blocks, Barbie dolls and Hula Hoops were all born out of the convenience of the lightweight, flexible, easy to clean, colourful and inexpensive plastic material.

However, when we think of the plastic pollution crisis, it is worth reflecting on our consumption habits. Like plastic bottles, straws, and bags – it is not uncommon to find discarded plastic toys on our beaches.

© Tracey Williams, Lego Lost At Sea

Occasionally, sea freight containers loaded with plastic toys are lost in transit. In 1997, 62 containers carrying millions of Lego pieces fell off a cargo ship. Over three decades later, beachcombers in Cornwall UK and across the South East coast continue to find these tiny toys washing ashore. Ironically, much of it is sea-themed: octopuses, sea grass, spear guns, life rafts, scuba tanks, cutlasses and flippers.

Environmental artists, Mandy Barker and Rob Arnold, often feature such cast ashore toys in their artworks, illustrating the scale of plastic toy waste.

What if plastic toys were given a new life?

Similar to how we are incorporating more recycled plastic content in plastic bottles and food trays, perhaps this should also be applied to plastic toys. Although this practice is still limited, California-based toy company, Green Toys currently uses recycled milk jugs in their creations.

© Green Toys

The HDPE plastic is cleaned and processed into flakes, mixed with food-safe mineral-based colouring and moulded into fun 100% recycled toys! Turning old into new, these toys inspire children to close the loop, as tangible environmental efforts are put into action.

Another company that adopted the concept of upcycling plastic toys are Belgian children’s furniture designers, ecoBirdy. They create colourful functional items by transforming post-consumer plastic waste and used toys into high-grade raw material without the need for additional pigments or new plastic. By keeping the source material purposefully visible, they remind the user to make the most out of our valuable and limited resources.

© ecoBirdy, Charlie Chair

Through a combination of manual sorting and technology, they provide high quality designs that are both aesthetically pleasing and long lasting, achieving a practical solution to effectively utilize and also preserve our world’s resources.

“The sorting process is labour intensive, but the ecological benefits make it worth to do.”


­Are your children’s toys too far gone to sell, regift, or support your favourite charity? Here is some guidance about how to recycle your toys in the United Kingdom by