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Easy Toy Swaps For Plastic Free Parenting

Plastic Free July is about encouraging and supporting individuals and families in reducing their plastic waste. The belief that small changes collectively add up to a big difference. Plastic-free is great in theory, but definitely harder in practice and even more so living with kids where plastic is all too pervasive and convenient.

Some choose to discount toys as single use and discredit it as not part of the plastic environmental problem. Yet living with kids, unwanton plastic can soon become a constant invasive part of family life and home. From the magazine your child really wants - along with all the plastic crap, to chocolate surprises, fast-food kids meal toys, fad and commercial toys of the moment your child insists on having to be like their peers, arts and craft sets full of plastic stickers, sequins, jewels and glitter, to the seasonal toys for halloween, beach days and Easter. All around us, we and our children are bombarded with cheap toys that occupy a child’s attention for a short amount of time or for single events, often so poorly made they are not fit for purpose, break easily, go mouldy and then all get discarded to the bin.

Now my son is old enough to have his own weekly pocket money, the challenge has only become harder. I try to give him autonomy over the spending of it, but cringe and discourage when the brightly coloured garish plastic attracts his eye and another unnecessary ugly plastic item is about to enter our home.

I do set restrictions for my 5 year old son on what he can buy and what I won't buy him, but do relent reluctantly on occasion. We are not completely plastic free when it comes to toys, but tat, seasonal, fad and low quality plastic toys that offer no long term play value are restricted to only what we are given and I do find myself saying no a lot.

I've tried to educate my son about the different materials toys are made from and why this is important and the reasons why a plastic toy might be a bad choice. We've also taken part in a Surfers Against Sewage beach clean ("we are saving the animals", I explained) and taken part in two park cleans so that he can begin to make the connections himself between the environment, animals lives we impact, and the choices we can make to look after and protect the world. I hope as he gets older, by doing these things, it will become important to him too.

Here are my top 12 easy ways to make swaps and refuse throwaway single-use plastic toys, general tat and toys with limited life-spans and play-value aimed at children:

  1. Buy sustainably made alternatives whenever possible.

  2. Buy pre-loved high quality plastic-toy brands that will last a childhood or longer.

  3. Avoid commercially marketed character toys where the phase of interest and single purpose of the toy will quickly be outgrown.

  4. Buy open ended toys where you can add pieces or additional sets to it over time. In this way it can be adapted and changed with the child's interests and development.

  5. Ask parents to give £5 instead of a present for your child's birthday party. If 20 parents gave £5 that would be £100 to buy something really special that your child wants and it takes the stress away from attending parents for find a suitable gift.

  6. Buy experiences rather than things, from days out to annual tickets for organisations like the National Trust.

  7. Use colouring pencils and soya or beeswax crayons rather than felt tip pens and switch to eco-friendly recyclable craft activities.

  8. Find a passion for sewing and making your own! From felt play bases to scrap fabric party bunting to crochet play figures.

  9. Take out a monthly book or magazine subscription that doesn't include plastic toys.

  10. When looking for bath and water play toys only buy those with no holes so they don't go mouldy.

  11. When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, make a present list for family and friends to use and let them know that you want to avoid plastic toys and crafts.

  12. Set boundaries with your children about what you will and will not buy them and encourage them to do the same with their pocket money. Explain why it is important. Only through us caring, will they care.

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