WASHINGTON — When we ask kids what world issue is most important to them, the same word comes up over and over again: environment, environment, environment.
In an effort to be "green," kids participate in stream cleanups and nag their parents to replace traditional light bulbs with ones that use less energy and last longer, but will kids change the way they play?
Some toy companies think so, and they're changing not just the kinds of toys they make but also how they package them to appeal to a generation of green kids.
Many toys today are made of plastic, and when those toys are thrown away, they sit in a landfill for many years without breaking down. One alternative is to look for a wooden toy or game, because wood doesn't have to be manufactured with chemicals and it will decompose over time. The games Gobblet and Gobblet Junior, with little wooden cups that players stack on one another until someone gets three or four in a row, are good examples.
Other companies are trying to use recycled materials in their toys. The Green Science line by Toysmith uses recycled materials and teaches kids about being Earth-friendly. Kids will like toys only if they are fun, but being green "is definitely a plus these days," said company executive Rich Ockwell.
You can also think about ways to make toys from things you already have at home. Family Fun magazine suggests screwing a long dowel (wood stick) to an old sneaker to make a goofy golf club. Or put reflective tape on small toys and hunt for them in the back yard at night with flashlights.
Here are some other things that you can think about the next time you're in a toy store or playing at home:
- Look at the box the toy is in. Is it made of recycled or recyclable material? Is it bigger than it needs to be? "There was a time when the big box meant value, and now the big box means waste," said toy expert Chris Byrne.
- Look at where the toy was made. A lot of energy is used to get a toy all the way from China. When possible, look for toys made in this country.
- When a toy gets broken and needs to be thrown away, see whether all or part of it can go in the recycling bin instead of the trash can. Green Pieces puzzles by TDC Games have wildflower seeds pressed into them, so when you're done with the puzzle, you can just plant the pieces!
- Instead of using all those AA and AAA batteries to power your remote control cars and then throwing them in the trash when they are used up, consider using rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries are widely available and can be recycled rather than pile up in a landfill.
- If you outgrow a toy and find that you're not playing with it much anymore, give it to another child who will enjoy it. That's the best recycling of all.