It’s an exciting time at Playper as we barrel toward summer and the launch of our Curious Kingdom playset. We are equally excited and proud to add this eco-friendly toy for 3-6 year-olds to the market, providing parents another plastic-free option. As you can imagine, as the father of four kids six and under, this process has made me more sensitive and thoughtful to the greater environmental issue around toys.
In a conversation with a friend who I had shared the Curious Kingdom prototype with, he mentioned the idea of “making the old new again” in turning to toys like ours, made of natural and sustainable materials. The conversation got me thinking about the fact that there’s no potential emotional connection to plastic. But there is, or at least can be, with other materials like paper, wood, cotton, and stone – how it feels when we hold it, knowing where it comes from, how it’s made, etc. Playper exists to “make the old new again” with creative, fun toys made out of really cool, sustainable materials – like paper.
While it’s definitely important to educate ourselves on the perils of plastic, perhaps we sometimes approach the topic too negatively, when we should actually be putting some emphasis on the positive attributes of more sustainably made toys – the organic sources they come from can be a source of pride, and these companies and their products move us all a little closer to an encouraging future of a plastic-free toy chest.
The Facts About Plastic
Understanding the seriousness of the issue means being clear that “plastic recycling” is generally misunderstood, and is often used to mislead consumers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans alone generated 35.7 million tons of plastic in 2018; that’s more plastic waste than any other country, according to a Science Advances study – and translates to 287 pounds per person in a single year.
And a lot less of it is getting recycled than you think. A Consumer Reports article last September reports:
If you’re like most people, you probably assume that when you toss plastic into the recycling bin it will be processed and turned into something new. The truth is that only a fraction of plastic is actually recycled. According to the most recent data estimates available from the Environmental Protection Agency, just 8.7 percent of the plastic that was discarded in the U.S. in 2018 was recycled.
I know – pretty low, right? Here are some more startling facts about plastic:
* More plastic waste ends up in the landfill every year (it’s still climbing).
* Plastic recycling has barely improved since 2017.
* Only 12% of all plastic has been incinerated.
* Plastic takes 400 years to degrade.
It is good news that we as a culture are taking it seriously and working to cut back in several ways. We’re seeing drinking fountains fitted with spouts that encourage using our own bottles, we’re taking our reusable bags to the grocery stores, and choosing cardboard/paper over plastic. And then there are some not-so-small measures: Last month it was announced that “ agreed to begin writing a global treater that would restrict the explosive growth of plastic.”
Take the Journey Together
As I wrote about in December, my family learned the challenges of going “Plastic Free Under the Tree” at Christmas. It was one small thing we wanted to do, but overall it’s a journey, and it’s one we should take with our kids. Perhaps instead of being ashamed of the materials our kids’ toys are made from, we can celebrate more sustainable materials. There’s no benefit or need to create a home environment where our children feel guilty about the inevitable plastic that comes into their lives, but emphasizing the story of sustainable toys can be a more meaningful way of raising environmentally conscious kids.
When we do pick up a toy made from eco-friendly materials, perhaps we can not only enjoy the positive tactile response when we hold an organic material, but we can even learn a bit about its origin. There’s a story behind any toy, but today’s eco-friendly toys often have a unique story behind its creation, including the motivation in creating a toy like this – at Playper we certainly do. By learning it, we can take a little more pride in something that wasn’t simply mass-produced from cheap plastic, but had thought and care put into its creation, and in the very material it’s made of.
Raising Environmentally Conscious Kids
Living as a green family starts with modeling, and in teaching lessons that will serve your kids well for the rest of their lives. Here are some ideas to consider.
Talk about it. As you make your own green decisions, tell your kids what you’re doing and why. When you bring your own bags to the grocery store, fill a re-usable water bottle, or refuse a straw at a restaurant, explain why to the kids. If you’re making an informed choice on anything, start a conversation!
Recycling lessons. Have a little “workshop” on what is actually recyclable and what isn’t. As I’ve learned in researching for this article, we’re all trying to recycle things that may or may not actually be recyclable. Believe me, it’s needed. Recently my 6-year-old announced, “I’m a good recycler – sometimes I even put things in recycling that don’t recycle so they can be recycled too!” A talk ensued after that, believe me! (The New York Times just published this interactive quiz – you can do it with your kids.)
Does that need to be on? A “lights off” campaign is always a good idea. There’s an interesting breakdown that, depending on the lightbulb, recommends turning off a light even if you’re gone for only 5 seconds. And if you haven’t made the switch to LED lighting, consider doing so. And don’t forget to mention to your kids that getting in habits like these saves the family money.
Avoid drive-throughs. Idle cars burn unnecessary fuel. If you’re in a long line of cars at a fast food restaurant, consider parking and going in (also? You’d be surprised how often that’s faster). If you’re stuck at a train crossing for more than a minute, or waiting for a friend in your car, it’s better to turn your car off.
Get Outside. Make sure the kids spend a lot of time outside – at the backyard, the park, on hikes. Appreciating nature can’t happen too early or too often.
You’ll no doubt come up with more. But my takeaway from all this is that the most important aspect of all these efforts is simply communicating with your children about the benefits of living green. We all should put more effort towards these goals for the sake of the planet, but there’s a personal benefit as well; it feels great to make daily choices that help make our world a better place. And that is a life lesson we should hand down to our kids.