How to recycle toys

5 May 2022
How to recycle toys


Our eldest child has a generous collection of toys. 99% of them have been passed onto us from older cousins, friends, and picked up secondhand (Op Shop, Facebook Marketplace and eBay). They mainly consist of anything with a wheel. My feet have stepped on a fair few matchbox cars in the past few years. Ouch!

The reality of choosing only secondhand toys is they have been pre-loved and pre-played, meaning the toys can be very close to breaking by the time we get to them. Notably toys picked up from Op Shops are the ones close to becoming landfill.

My guess is some people feel guilty about putting toys in the bin, so they choose to pass slightly cracked or chipped toys onto Op Shops for one more play. I get it. I used to do it with clothes. Recent research found 80% of children’s toys in the global north are going to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean.

The material a toy is made with and its original quality plays a part in the longevity too. I try to repair as much as possible but sadly the bulk of toys are designed and manufactured without repairing or Extended Producer Responsibility.

Metal toys can withstand longer play and are easier to fix. On the flip side of this is parts are harder to find for replacing. While plastic parts can be created using Toy Rescue 3D Printer files from Toy Rescue and with 90% of toys made of plastic this looks like a good solution. The amount of hours I have spent fixing a toy to then have it re-break within a month is more than I expected. You can even read how my local Repair Cafe saved a beloved toy for us.

It does get to a point when some toys cannot be salvaged by repairs and become unsafe to use. In our house this is when we move them to 'the land of broken toys' … which is an old cardboard box I keep in my office. I don't know what I planned to do with them? Make a sculpture for the annual SCRAP Art Show? Before baby number two came along I asked my then four year old while I was organising/cleaning/nesting if he'd like to create an artwork with the broken toys. His repose was “can we just recycle toys? What do you do with broken toys?”


Can you recycle broken toys in the kerbside recycling bin?

The short answer is no

But, the long answer would be: A Councils could accept different types of toys, depending on the material. For example, a 100% plastic toy or 100% metal toy might be allowed BUT (!!) it's best to check with your Council recycling rules first. Just because one Council accepts toys in their kerbside recycling bin does not meal yours will. Any item going into the kerbside recycling bin not supposed to be there will end up in landfill. Always ask. I repeat, always ask.

On top of asking the Council, the manufacture should be providing this information too. After-all they produced them and should create a system for recycling or disposal themselves. I have contacted out to two toy suppliers in the past asking how to repair and recycle their toy cars with no luck.

Let's find out how to recycle plastic, metal and wooden toys.

Are there special drop off points to recycle toys?

Big W offer Toy's for Joy a joint initiative with TerraCycle to help reduce toys going to landfill. Broken toys are sorted and then disassembled to seperate the different materials (plastic, metal, wood). The varying materials are then moved on and made into new items. Any toys donated that are still workable and usable will be passed onto a charity. The Toys for Joy program is primarily for broken toys. Most of the plastic (there are up to six types!) can only be recycled once more into decking, benches, garden beds before it goes to landfill. Technically this is downcycling. 


How to recycle toys
My local Toys for Joy drop at Big W


The Toy's for Joy recycling program CANNOT ACCEPT ALL toys - the following are not allowed to be placed into the Joy for Toys toy recycling bins: books; batteries in toys; board games; wooden toys; Play-doh, paint and slime; pens, pencils, crayons or paint brushes; oversized toys such as bikes, scooters, skateboards; sports toys such as soccer goals.

How to recycle books, batteries, board games, wooden toys, Play-doh, paint and slime, pens, pencils, crayons or paint brushes, oversized toys such as bikes, scooters, skateboards; sports toys such as soccer goals?

Batteries in toys - Woolworths, Officeworks, Aldi have drop off boxes.

Board games - TerraCycle accept these in their Toys Zero Waste Box.

Wooden toys - TerraCycle accept them in their Toys Zero Waste Box. Later in this blog post I explain why we shouldn't compost broken wooden toys

Play-doh - This is not recyclable as it contains plastic. Homemade playdough with natural colouring can be composted.  I found a fun tip to revive it. 

Paint and slime -  If you can't pass it onto someone else check with Paintback to see if they accept kids paint. Sadly store bought slime is not recyclable.

Pens - Officeworks accept pens and markers as do TerraCycle.

Pencils - Terracycle offer a Pens, Pencils and Markers box. Before recycling take the time to clean up old pencils, organise and donate first.

Crayons - Not recyclable. Instead get crafty and melt them down to turn into new crayons. There are some fun tutorials on the interwebs.

Paint brushes - Not recyclable. Instead think how they could be upcycled if they are beyond use. Visit Pinterest, Youtube or a Upcycling facebook group for ideas.

Bikes, scooters, skateboards - Bikes beyond repair can be pulled apart and the metal dropped at a metal recycling program. Check with your local Council or locate a business for queeries. Look up Recycle Fun for skateboard recycling. A broken  scooter would have to be disassembled like a bicycle. Depending on the make and brand you might be able to get replacement parts for your kids scooter. We have replaced parts on our secondhand micro scooter easily.

Sports toys such as soccer goalsTerraCycle have a box for beyond repair and broken sporting goods

Why are toys so hard to recycle?

The mixed components of most manufactured toys, the high volume made of plastics, and designing a product without consideration (or care) for its end of life makes for recycling toys difficult. If we want recyclable toys the change needs to start during the design process. For instance there are a small number of brands using plastic from milk bottles to create a toy recyclable up to 9 times. 

Even if all toys going forward were forever recyclable and repairable, there are still a lot of broken toys bundled up in cupboards and at Op Shops that are simply not. The process to recycle (or downcycle really) won't be perfect for a long time. If it was a black and white scenario we'd stop manufacturing news toys, try to repair and recycle what we have now, and rethink the need to manufacture new toys at the rate we do now.

Should we make everything from wood and other natural materials?

Wood and other natural materials might seem like the best option as they can break down in something like a compost bin. For instance wooden toys are usually simple in construction and are easy to repair but it can also become complicated. We have found many wooden toys are often made of MDF, a wood product made of soft and hard wood fibres mixed with a resin often containing formaldehyde. It chips and breaks off easily. This should never be left to break down in a compost. Paint, varnishes and glue also makes wood hard unsafe to compost or even recycle properly. The above issues need to be considered when it comes to a wooden toys design through to end of life just the same as metal or plastic.  With 50% of the worlds timber still coming from native forests (including some FSC) sourcing were the wood comes from is major consideration. 

The Toy's for Joy recycling program is a helpful option to recover materials and i'm optimistic this is a stepping stone to change and not a scapegoat for the problem at hand. The problems being there are so many toys with many of those designed to break! I recommend this article by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation to learn about initiatives in the toy space to rethink and redesign.

There is enough evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that suggests kids don't need that many toys. Louise Grimmer, senior lecturer in retail marketing at the University of Tasmania, and Martin Grimmer Professor of marketing at the University of Tasmania share that children with less toys are better at self regulation, helps with problem solving skills, develop more gratitude, and improved quality playtime.

I'm going to end this blog post before I go into the topic of how to request less toys from family and friends. Because that's a blog post in itself!

Where to shop, donate and sell clothes beyond the Op Shop

10 March 2022
Where to shop, donate and sell clothes beyond the Op Shop

“We can't take your donations, sorry. Our storage is full.”

I overheard this response to another customers at the Op Shop just after the new year. It's not the first time either and I have also received this response when trying to make a clothing donation. 

Before I learned about the major environmental and human impact of the fashion industry, Op Shops were the go to place to help me make way for the old so I could replace with the new. Essentially, they were my scapegoat. I could unload a bag at their stores, or into a charity bin when the store declined my stuff. There was never a moment I wondered why they couldn't take my stuff or where everything donated ended up. 

I bundled up scruffy shoes, stained clothes, shirts with loose buttons, dresses with broken zippers, and mistakingly shrunken clothes alongside piles of stuff that wasn't in fashion anymore, believing Op Shop employees would find a customer or give it away for free. To this day I cringe remembering all of the high heel shoes I donated - when really I didn't want the guilt of throwing something away because I trashed them on a night out or the clothes I moved on after a handful of wears. It's appalling I would try donating something visibly wrecked or poor quality to another person when I wasn't happy enough to wear them. Peak privilege. These days I aim to use my privilege to only choose secondhand, repair what I have, upcycle when possible and recycle responsibly. And call out fast fashion businesses to stop making so much clothing.

It wasn't long into my quest to create less waste and live more sustainably I learned charity stores like Op Shops receive so much stuff that is beyond their ability to sell. According to Jana Bowden Professor of Marketing at Macquarie University, charities reportedly send about 60,000 tonnes of unwanted items (clothing, electronics, toys etc) to landfill every year. The cost of sending items to landfill can cost charities over a million dollars a year. Money that should be going to community programs. 

Not all of the excess a charity store goes to landfill here in Australia. It's sent overseas - kind of like how Australia used to send plastic overseas for recycling. 70% of donated clothing is shipped to secondhand markets in on the African continent. Last year Foreign Correspondent ran a segment titled Dead White Mans Clothes. The show reported the never ending bales of clothing sent to Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana. 40% of the clothing exported is going to landfill due to low quality (you know, like my stained clothes and wrecked shoes) creating environmental and humanitarian issues. 

Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda have tried to implement a complete ban on all imported secondhand apparel, claiming the industry harms local environments, people, and textile industries in these countries. Unfortunately countries like the US, one of the main players responsible for sending many of these secondhand garments, have pushed back against these import bans.

I have a pile of clothing and shoes I need to move on. The photo above is a snapshot from the box. There are many reasons why people need to move clothing on; weight gain, weight loss, change in lifestyle, shoe size changes (ha, thanks pregnancy!), new locations with different climates, new style interests, allergies...really the list in endless and not always because of needing to buy new stuff. But for many the Op Shop has become a place to deal with our unwanted stuff. 

These days I don't solely rely on Op Shops to donate and buy clothes. To alleviate the stress they appear to be under from donations I look at shopping and passing on via an array of different outlets alongside Op Shops. These actions help to invest in new circular shopping models too that could help make shopping secondhand easier and most importantly normal. 

Clothing Swap Party

A clothing swap party is an event where attendees bring a certain number of clothing and accessories. All of the items are laid out and everyone is encouraged to “shop” from the clothing supplied. It can be an informal get together with friends in a house or a more organised larger event with clothing exchanged for buttons that are used as currency to “buy” new (to you) clothing. Check The Clothing Exchange (Aus), EventBrite, Facebook Events for clothes swap events happening near you.

Buy Nothing New Groups

The mission of Buy Nothing New Groups is to build community and connect people through local gifting of items like clothes. Find out more via the buynothingproject.org where you can find the app. Many of the Buy Nothing New groups I have found have been via Facebook.

Facebook

Facebook provides a variety of ways to move stuff on. There is a dedicated Facebook Marketplace, locally based Buy/Swap/Sell groups, specific groups for garment items like clothes, shoes, handbags or brands, age, and sizing.

Depop, Poshmark, ThreadUp, Vestarie Collective, The RealReal

Re-commerce is the category online platforms like Depop, Poshmark, ThreadUp, Vestarie, The RealReal, among others, fall under. Individuals sell via the apps or website. Depop, Poshmark, ThreadUp are peer to peer, while Vestarie Collective and The RealReal approve clothing and then collect (via mail) to sell on. All platforms take a small cut from the total transaction amount, plus shipping on some. I have used Depop to buy pregnancy clothing and found the process user friendly.

Charity Bay

Charity Bay allows people to sell unwanted items and donate the sale to a charity of the sellers choice. It's done via their app and website. You can read a blog post about my experience with them. I have a handful of clothing items ready to sell with Charity Bay soon.

Ebay, Gumtree

The Ebay and Gumtree platforms have been around for a long time helping people shop, donate and sell clothes and shoes. In my early twenties I would spend hours (and many dollars) on eBay searching for secondhand designer clothes. Gumtree has been wonderful to find baby clothes, nappies and shoes. 

Consignment Clothing Stores

Consignment clothing stores were a complete unknown until five years ago. A consignment store sells preloved items either purchased from the customer or they pay a percentage of the sale price once the item has been sold. I have been offered 30% of the sale price or I can take 50% of the sale price as a voucher to use in store.

Most stores will require customers book a time to bring in the clothes they wish to sell. An employee will vet all items for missing buttons, holes, stains and to make sure the garments have a resale value with them. Most won't resell fast fashion brands.

I can see how consignment stores and their online versions can help fill the void for people who want to update their wardrobes often and also incentivise people to look after their things.

Consignment stores local to Melbourne are Mutual Muse and Goodbyes selling clothes from $30 to $100+ and then Secondo, Stop Staring, EuroTrash and Mio Tesoro catering for more designer items. There is even a consignment store dedicated to baby and maternity clothes called Use-Ta.

Any clothing unfit for repair or wear can be passed onto the following locations:


Remember: rethink donating clothing (or anything else) to an Op Shop unusable or unwearable. They deserve our best like everywhere else. 

I don't blame Op Shops for needing to send bales of clothes overseas or turf to landfill. But they could be part of the solution. I have yet to find out more information on how or if Australian Op Shops are advocating to be part of conversation.  Of course by buying less new clothing and fast fashion companies vanishing is fundamental in addressing the issue (okay a bit more complicated but nothing the billionaire owners of these companies can't fix with their wealth!). We truly have enough clothing and textiles on this planet. In the meantime I have enjoyed trying different ways to shop, donate and sell clothes beyond the Op Shop and I hope you do too.

Our newest family member + has a second child altered our zero-waste habits

2 March 2022

This is an overdue announcement for blog readers - we have a new addition to the family. To be honest it kinda feels like he's been with us for more than five months. There's a feeling of him being here forever. Old soul perhaps? If I could describe him in one word it would be jolly. Or peaceful. He radiates a soothing energy I'm clinging to in these turbulent times. The dark hair in his newborn photo above has fallen out and is now golden. Sadly, neither children have inherited my ginger hair. He is desperately trying to push and lift his small body up to crawl. Once he's mastered this there's no doubt his older brother will be the one he'll follow everywhere. 

I've been asked if the arrival of our second child altered our zero-waste habits. The answer is no, not really. Refusing, reducing, reusing, repairing, composting...all of these usual zero-waste habits are firmly entrenched in our daily routine and decisions.

More broadly we kept furniture, prams, clothing, nappies, wipes, toys, books from our first child, which was purchased or gifted to us secondhand originally. I added extra secondhand cloth nappies as some had worn out. Due to a lockdown I was on my own with my four year old for postpartum and I planned for this by stocking up the freezer before birth with soups and snacks in old glass jars. My husband bought the ingredients package free in our own containers.

Related posts: Our Baby Room - Tips For Borrowing, Sharing And Buying Secondhand Baby Items and My Newborn Zero Waste Essentials List and Our Cloth Nappy Story

Admittedly there were two instances where disposable nappies and wipes have been used due to illness.

I could lay out the reasons to plead my case but this is not fair on me (or anyone else). Just because I used disposables for a moment of time in one area of my life doesn't mean I abandoned reducing waste and trying to avoid single-use everywhere else. My mindset and habits are wired now to consider how my actions will impact others and the planet. I have the privilege to do this (not everyone does) and I make sure to use it. But, life came along with a few hurdles and disposable nappies were the option to make life easier while in hospital and getting better after. I did the best I could, where I was, with what I had.

Each and every one of us will come across different blocks that can prevent us from choosing the less wasteful choice. Some people can face constant hurdles and others will only have them temporarily or none at all. If we can create new systems and continue to normalise less wasteful solutions, the people who find reducing waste the hardest because the system makes it difficult for them will benefit the most. Those with temporary hurdles or none at all should always use our privilege to advocate for wider accessibility and system change. 

I guess what I'm trying to articulate (probably not very well, thank you baby brain) is anyone can be zero waste/low waste/minimal waste/waste free/low impact/eco minimalist (whatever the term you use) without getting it “right” in all areas of our lives. For instance, if you are a family able to shop secondhand, repair clothes, choose reusables nappies, but purchasing food package-free is impossible...you can still say you live zero-waste (or any other term that suits you). 

Do the best you can, with what you've got, where you are. 

My little one is soon to stir from his nap. Time to pop on the kettle, gather some peppermint leaves from the garden, and have a cup of tea before he wakes.
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