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Sustainable Swaps to REFUSE Plastic toys in your family life

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

You may have already heard of the 4 R's of sustainability that are often widely promoted:

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.


In Week 2 of Plastic Free July 2023, I wanted to share my top suggestions for Refusing plastic toys in your family life, offering alternatives to buying them. As adults we joke about babies and toddlers loving the box and packaging more than the gift inside. With older children, they equally get an addictive buzz from the excitement of unboxing new toys, yet a survey by the British Heart Foundation discovered that, on average, a child loses interest in a toy within just 36 days. So, Refusing new toys is about ways to play and have fun, without the need for that 'new' buzz.

  • The toy industry uses 40 tonnes of oil based plastic for every £1 million it makes in revenue. Yet 36.5 million toys are thrown away annually that go to landfills or incinerators creating CO2 pollution. So why are we still buying so many of them? How do we turn this plastic tap off? With alternatives like toy libraries, borrowing and swapping with friends, rental schemes and toy clubs. Do you know of local schemes and toy clubs in your area that you could use or try out instead of buying new? Does your school offer a Lego after-school club?

  • An estimate is 1402 tonnes (same weight as 58 buses) of plastic toys litter our coastline annually. I like to take my son on local beach and park cleans. To him, they are a fun treasure hunt. My hope is that, as he gets older, he is a more conscientious consumer and views littering as abhorrently as I do, but I also hope he comes to understand that waste in all forms, is a problem facing our ecosystems and we need to reduce our waste, by not buying it.

  • The average child spends more than 4-and-a-half hours per day on electrical devices and just 40 minutes outside, which equates to just 6% of their day. But we as parents, experience the positive benefits when children have played outside so know how crucial this is. How can you encourage more time outside as a family? Join the 1000hours outside global movement to give more focus to time and play outside.

  • Do your children have an upcoming birthday with a party arranged with their friends? Do you already have a house full of toys and really would rather not have more? Then how about inviting everyone to support a fiver party for your child instead. Far from your child feeling deprived, you are likely to find the opposite if you prepare them ahead of time, especially if you link it to something they really want to do or a bigger toy they really want to have, and explain why you want to do a fiver party to them. My son is super excited about going on the rollercoasters he so loves and didn't miss getting presents at his party at all.

Think your child will hate the idea? Discuss it with them. They might just surprise you!

  • Lego will always be a toy that is well loved and will no doubt be part of many families lives for generations to come, BUT... we do need to talk about the rate we now buy NEW Lego. Lego is the biggest toy manufacturer in the world, with over 220 million new plastic sets sold EACH year. Where is all that Lego going to end up? It lasts for 1300 years, giving new meaning if you plan to 'pass on to the next generation!'

- Did you know that 2.5 million Lego blocks have been flushed into UK seas and rivers?

- Does Lego always have to be new Lego?

- Is there a local Lego club your child can attend instead?

- Is there a way to swap Lego sets with others?

- If you have a child that hates dismantling their masterpieces, how about photographing them and turning them into photo books?


Have a go and choose to refuse to buy new toys as often as you do currently. When we say no, it might just possibly lead us to a new way of enjoying and engaging with toys and save some money, as well as the planet, in the process.

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