The Problem with Plastic Toys

I grew up in the 1980s in Bridlington, a North East seaside town full of amusements, tat shops and fish and chip shops.

Amongst these seaside staples was Kirby’s Toyshop. Located on Chapel Street, a trip to this wonderful toy shop was a special event saved only for birthdays.

The toys – Barbie, Lego, Sylvanian Families, My little Pony, Mechano – were encased behind glass panels and parents had to ask to look at the toys up close. Once a toy was chosen, the shopkeeper, a kind man with a beard and glasses, would carefully wrap it up in brown paper before handing it over.

The whole experience was magical, the displays, the careful process of choosing, watching the precious toy being wrapped and then tearing the wrapping paper off at home.

Kirby’s was founded in 1946 and in the late 80s it slowly got taken over by tat as the toys were replaced with cheap bucket and spades.

Taking the magic out of toy shopping

Compare the magic of this shopping experience to today. Toys (especially plastic ones) are so readily available and so readily given to children that it’s hard to make it a magical experience. Once the first few minutes of excitement are over, the toy is chucked into the already overflowing toy box.

My daughter turned three last week. When we were deciding what to buy her, we didn’t take her to a special shop so she could choose what she wanted. We ordered her presents online and they were delivered to our door.

There wasn’t any magic in this process. Although we bought her what she wanted and did it with love, it did feel like we were just ticking ‘present buying’ off the birthday to do list.

This was a couple of weeks ago and at this point the nagging guilt of plastic waste meant that, as well as buying her a sandpit from Argos and some books from Amazon, we went for a trip to the charity shops.

Joni sandpit
That one time, when Joni played in her plastic sandpit.

I’ve always been a fan of charity shops and although I did feel a twinge of shame buying Joni and Evan (our one year old whose birthday is a week after his sister’s) some second hand birthday presents, I don’t feel I can justify the waste of buying a whole lot of new plastic presents for their birthdays.

Apparently plastic toys account for 90% of the toy market in the US and the majority of these can’t be recycled. So that’s around nine out of every ten toys bought ending up in landfill after they’ve been broken or are no longer played with. In the UK, plastic toys are the third most commonly bought type of plastic by families.

Out with the new toys and in with the old

We took a trip down to our local charity shops and got rather an impressive haul.

Joni picked a pink palace for her Peppa Pig characters and I bought her a new Frozen book and face paint set, plus a barely used set of nursery rhyme books and a pair of Next trousers to wrap up for her birthday. All of which came to about £6.

Peppa palace
Peppa’s got a brand new pad

For Evan, we got a wooden xylophone (further guilt alleviated due to it being wooden) for £1.25. We also told family members to help out with buying him a new wardrobe, rather than buying him any toys.

We got him a drum kit, but paid a bit more than we would have normally done and got it from John Lewis in the hope that it will last longer when Evan is in full blast-beat mode.

Evan xylophone
Evan jamming on his £1.25 xylophone

Feeling good:

  • Buying Evan something he needs rather than something he’ll play with a few times
  • Giving Joni lots of extra presents to open from charity shops

Feeling bad

  • Buying Joni a huge pink sand pit and paddling pool that she doesn’t play with much, preferring instead to pretend a stick is a magic wand and that’s she’s a fairy


  • To buy less toys for Joni and Evan
  • If we do buy toys, to get them from the charity shop or buy wooden ones


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