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Why Toys Need to Be Part of The Conversation on Climate Change

Last week I spoke at a Climate Nature Emergency Event held in Hove. It was wonderful to see over 200 people attend. I spoke about why it's so important that plastic toys are included in these discussions and I wanted to raise awareness and even shock people about the impact the toy industry is having on our planet.

When we talk about our climate and nature crisis, toys are rarely mentioned. I believe this needs to change. I believe toys need to be part of the conversations.

Anyone living with children, will have experienced how 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 tat, party bags from class parties to fad and commercial toys of the moment your child insists on having only to lose interest a few weeks later, 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 plastic, often cheaply made, that occupy a child’s attention for a short amount of time or for single events, often breaking easily and then all get discarded to the bin, abandoned or lost.

Over 400 million toys are sold by the UK toy industry each year. 90% of them plastic and unrecyclable.

Toys are the most plastic-intensive industry globally.

It’s a £7.1 billion industry in the UK alone and growing year on year. The toy industry uses 40 tons of plastic for every £1 million it makes in revenue. Plastic that has no where to go and cannot be recycled. Plastic that has used fossil fuels to make them and will create CO2 to dispose of them.

British Heart Foundation research in 2019 found 1 in 3 parents (28%) admit to throwing away toys. In fact 8.5 million new, perfectly good toys and 28 million damaged toys are thrown away each year in the UK, which then end up in landfills, incinerators, turned into climate changing C0₂ emissions or end up in the ocean.

1402 tonnes of the plastic children’s toys sold each year in the UK will end up littered within 50km of the coastline in the UK at the end of their life. If 50% of that ends up in the sea, that’s the same weight as 58 London buses every year. Recent research from Direct Line Home Insurance revealed 2.5million Lego blocks have been flushed down the toilet by children under the age of 10. The same research also revealed over 4 million dolls, including the likes of Bratz and Barbie, have been flushed down the lavatory as well as 4.2 million pens and crayons.

We can’t just continue to dismiss plastic toys with the rate at which plastic toys are being bought and discarded.

Even good quality long lasting plastic toys like Lego still require fossil fuels to make them and Lego is the biggest toy manufacturer in the world. Any Lego you buy this Christmas, will last up to 1300 years. "It can be passed down for generations", you may well be thinking, but toys are not always suitable for the next generation. Red, yellow and black Lego bricks made before 1973 contain cadmium, a known carcinogen and is linked to kidney and lung damage and regulations around BPA (widely used in plastic toys to make them hard) continue to be reviewed and reduced and could eventually be banned.

With more than 220 million plastic Lego sets sold each year where will all that Lego end up? Why are so many new sets purchased rather than buying second hand? How many generations of children are being considered when new Lego is bought? Will it even be safe to pass on if this is the plan?

This raises the further question of why are so many toys being thrown away? And the need for more alternative solutions to buying toys like quality toy rental schemes and toy clubs so parents do not need to buy these toys in the first place.

Plastic toys are a huge contributor to climate change and damage of our eco-systems as the most intensive plastic-use industry that requires petroleum to make them and as a continuing growing industry globally. We can’t just ignore that, as we go about our Christmas shopping and gift buying. Because ultimately this we will be passing on as our legacy to our children, through the very toys that we buy for them.

If we care about the planet, we need to reduce our purchase of plastic toys, challenge the throw away and limited life span culture around them, reject the plastic tat and glitter, and start seeing plastic toys for what they are; as a core contributor of our climate and nature crisis and our plastic waste problem.

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