As a mum I spend half my life looking at, buying, playing with, and tidying up, toys! My living room looks like a toy shop exploded in it, and I can’t remember the last time I was able to walk across a room without having to dance around brightly coloured doodads that might burst into song at any moment. But with recent studies highlighting the shocking amount of waste plastic in our environment and even our drinking water, it’s hard not to look at all of Baby’s plastic toys and wonder if they are worth the environmental cost.
Until the 1950’s most toys were made of tin, wood, and other natural materials, but increasing demand lead toy companies to search for an alternative which could be mass produced. Fisher Price was the first to really latch onto plastic by creating their entire range in the material in the late 1940’s. This lead the way into a brave new plastic world, which would see all of the big toy companies move to the more versatile materiel by the mid 1950’s, and they weren’t the only ones.
A recent study quoted by the National Geographic looked into the shocking truth about the sheer volume of plastics which have entered our environment since the 1950’s and the results are sobering.
The study found that of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic that has been created since the 1950’s, and 6.3 billion tons of this has become plastic waste. Only 9% of this waste has been recycled, while 12% has been incinerated, and the remaining 79% has found its way either into landfill or into the environment as litter.
To give you an idea of how shocking those figures really are, the amount of plastic which has made its way into landfill or the environment is the equivalent of:
- About 711million particularly portly elephants;
- Or, about 11million grounded international space stations;
- Or, about 70,769 QEII cruise liners.
Not only are these quantities mind boggling but they are only set to increase as most plastics take upward of 400 years to degrade, meaning that every piece of plastic which has found its way to landfill to date, is still in existence.
One of the biggest concerns with plastic waste, which is rightly getting a lot of press attention at the moment, is the presence of plastic waste in our seas and water ways. This plastic pollution causes harm to birds, marine animals, and fish, and if current trends continue there will be more plastic in the sea, ton for ton, than there are fish by 2050!
This also brings up the question of how the huge amount of plastics in the environment might affect our own health. It has been known for some time that microplastics have been found in some sea birds and fish and as a result in our own diet, but a recent study quoted by IFLscience found that 83% of the tap water worldwide is contaminated with microplastics and scientists as yet have no idea what effect this will have on the people exposed to them.
It’s fair to say that plastic toys are not the biggest culprit when it comes to plastic pollution, but they are one of the harder plastic items to recycle and often end up in landfill.
The wide spread concern about the impact of our disposable society may explain why shops like Born Gifted which sell a wide range of wooden toys, have been gaining popularity. Wooden toys, which are usually made from renewable sources such as managed forests, are without a doubt the more environmentally friendly option. They generally last longer, are easier to up-cycle, and should they end up in landfill they will degrade in a fraction of the time without leaving any chemicals behind.
The world has changed to a dizzying degree since plastic became wide spread and it would be unreasonable to think that we could turn back the clock. But having bought Baby a variety of wooden toys over the past year, I have discovered that their tactile nature speaks to her in a way that plastic toys don’t.
Perhaps going back to a world of wood and tin toys is unrealistic, but by choosing wooden toys where possible and going the extra mile to recycle plastic toys that have come to the end of their lives, we can all do our bit to prevent the global plastic problem from escalating.
**This article was sponsored by Born Gifted.