Holiday season fanfare has already begun, and I am reminded of my holiday motto: No more junk toys! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and/or the Winter Solstice, if you have children, you know what junk toys are. Junk toys are toys that will have little educational value, are usually made of plastic, are overly commercial, and end up in our landfills. Green parents often try to make these toys disappear, but it is better to prevent their buying and giving in the first place.
Four years ago, before America was awash in greenwashing, Mothering Magazine featured a great article title "No More Junk Toys: Rethinking Children’s Gifts" by Judith Rubin. Rubin writes,
Like junk food, junk toys can be fun but are devoid of nutrition. Buying them requires little forethought. They are excessively commercial, and are often linked to cross-marketing schemes. They excite children at first, but that initial flicker doesn’t endure. Also like junk food, junk toys have hidden environmental and social costs for which the consumers pay.
The environmental and social costs of junk toys are huge! Plastic toys are often made in sweatshops, sometimes by children themselves, and many of them send the wrong kind of messages to children. For example, Bratz Dolls sexualize young girls, as well as have unfair labor practices, and Barbie’s proportions are unrealistic. According to Empoweredparents.com,
If she were alive, Barbie would be a woman standing 7 feet tall with a waistline of 18 inches and a bustling of 38-40. In fact, she would need to walk on all fours just to support her peculiar proportions. Yet media advertising, television and Hollywood would reinforce her message, influencing what would become the American ideal of beauty.
Besides the materials and energy used in the production of junk toys, these plastic toys end up in landfills and oceans. Life Magazine reported that there is a swath of plastic garbage twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. Life reports, "Except for the small amount that has been incinerated — and it’s a very small amount — every bit of plastic made still exists."
The safety of toys made in China has been in question lately with the recent rave of recalls. Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law a ban on toys containing phthalates. The Governator said, "These chemicals threaten the health and safety of our children at critical stages of their development." Phthalates have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems. This follows a ban last year in San Francisco on toys containing BPA and certain levels of phthalates. Despite such legal actions, junk toys still dominate the toy shelves.
How can you tell a junk toy from a good toy? Field naturalist Alicia Daniel offers the following list of questions to ask when selecting toys:
- Will this toy eventually turn into dirt-i.e., could I compost it? Stones, snowmen, driftwood, and daisies-they will be gone, and we will be gone, and life goes on.
- Do I know who made this toy? This question leads us to search for the hidden folk artist in each of us.
- Is this toy beautiful? Have human hands bestowed an awkward grace, a uniqueness lacking in toys cranked out effortlessly by machine?
- Will this toy capture a child’s imagination?
Every year, I send my family a reminder that we do not want any plastic toys or clothes made from synthetic fibers. I wish I could say that they always followed our wishes, but somehow, the message flies out the window when they see some "adorable" plastic thing they think my children can’t live without. My husband has changed the motto to "No More Toys" this year, but the grandparents have already scoffed at the idea. Perhaps I should try sending my family Alicia Daniel’s list to help them make appropriate gift selections. If we are going to tell our children to reduce, reuse, recycle, shouldn’t our holiday gift giving and receiving reflect this practice?