How To Sustainably Dispose of Old Toys

Okay, parents, it’s time to be honest. Is it possible that your child has too many toys? I know, I know, we all want to spoil our kids a little. But when the toys start overflowing the toy chest or covering every spare surface, it might be time to get rid of a few.

Unfortunately, the toy industry is typically pretty environmentally unfriendly, and simply throwing away old toys isn’t always the best option for sustainability. Let’s review a few options for how to sustainably get rid of your old toys.

1. Donate your old toys

The most eco-friendly option for disposing of old toys is to donate them. This keeps toys out of the landfill and reduces the need to produce new toys. Luckily, there are many different options for where to donate your toys that are still in working condition. First, if you’re lucky enough to have friends with kids, that’s a great way to make sure your old toys will get some use again! You can also choose to donate to a charity thrift store like Goodwill, that takes old toys and resells them. Cradles to Crayons is another charity that takes donated toys and gives them to families in need.

Additionally, many children’s and women’s shelters, hospitals, and daycare centers will accept toy donations. Some neighborhoods may even have toy libraries, where you can exchange toys for free. For an easy, online option, you can always choose to give away or sell your toys through an online marketplace like Ebay or Facebook. As long as the toys are in good shape, donation is a great sustainable way to make sure your toys make another kid very happy.

2. Recycle your old toys

Believe it or not, some toys can actually be recycled. Even better, some toys, like unpainted or naturally-dyed wooden toys, can even be composted. While the recycling rules usually depend on your local recycling center’s discretion, generally, toys made from recyclable materials like stainless steel and other metals can be recycled. Some towns also accept large, rigid plastic toys. Finally, many electronic components in toys can be recycled.

Recycling not only reduces the amount of new plastic that must be produced, but it helps avoid chemicals and microplastics leaching from landfilled plastic toys into the environment.  While some toys are tested to ensure that they don’t contain any dangerous (or restricted) chemicals, not all toys are, so it’s best to make sure that the toys can be processed correctly in a recycling plant.

That said, some toys can’t be recycled, so it’s important to double check the materials before you get rid of them to make sure you’re not “wishcycling” (recycling something that can’t actually be recycled, which makes recycling the whole bundle more difficult or impossible). Some local recycling centers may only accept some types of toys or plastics. 

If you’ve got a big bundle of toys and you’re not sure whether they can be recycled, check out toy company Mattel’s PlayBack Program, which allows you to simply ship old toys back to the company for recycling. Currently, the program is limited to only a few brands of toys but it is expected to expand in the future. The company TerraCycle also has a free recycling program for all Hasbro brand toys.

3. Upcycle your old toys

If you’re feeling a little creative, you can find a way to upcycle some of your child’s old toys. Upcycling is the process of repurposing something to give it a new use, rather than getting rid of it. A few examples include a container made of your kid’s old legos, or using old pool noodles to make door wreaths. Some creative folks even use repainted plastic animals as elegant bookends or decor.

4. Follow a “one-in, one-out” rule

Follow a one-in, one-out rule for new toys: when you buy a new toy, try to get rid of an old one. While this isn’t about getting rid of old toys, the rule can help you avoid ending up in the same position with toys everywhere (again). This can also help you make more thoughtful, eco-friendly decisions when buying toys, as you’ll have to consider whether it’s really better than the toys you have at home (after all, those are the most eco-friendly toys!).

Of course, the most sustainable thing you can do is to avoid buying new toys, as each new toy you buy has to be manufactured, which does have some negative environmental impacts. However, if you do choose to buy new to replace old toys, it’s important to keep sustainability in mind. Vote with your wallet to support sustainable companies. Choose toys made from recyclable, non-toxic materials and make sure to buy toys that will last a long time; there’s nothing worse than buying a new toy only to have to dispose of it in a month. 

Hopefully, next time you need to do a little decluttering, you can get rid of your old toys in a way that feels good for both you and the environment.