Are Toys Recyclabe? If So, Where and How?

This is a close look at a bunch of vintage toys in storage.

Toys make people happy. Sometimes, though, the happiness is short-lived. Kids grow bored with toys so fast that most end up accumulating dust in the closet or toy box until they are inevitably thrown in the trash. When I was a kid, I enjoyed playing with a new toy for a day or two, maybe more, and then I would get bored with it. It would break, or it wasn’t fun anymore, and I would find something new to play with.

When doing a clean-up of my room, my parents would tell me to throw away a broken toy, or miscellaneous Lego bricks, my plush toys, and other unwanted toys that I no longer play with. I didn’t realize then how bad toys are for the environment. 

Americans buy more than $18 billion in toys annually. Of those toys bought, 40% are broken a few months later. What do you do with those broken toys?

Probably throw them away, right? I would, too. But did you know that toxins from plastic in toys that are thrown away in landfills will leach into the air and water? These toxins are known to boost the risk of developing liver and kidney disease and other cancers.

Of the plastic waste found in landfills and the ocean, most come from toy industries. According to a study done by the Plastic Disclosure Project, the toy industry has created the highest “plastic intensity” in the consumer goods market. 3.9% of their annual revenue is required to alleviate environmental damage caused by plastics.

That’s why we should rethink throwing away old and broken toys. There are other things we can do with them, like donating them or recycling them. If you’re eco-conscious, your toys may already be a hand-me-down toy or one made from recycled materials, but if they’re not, there are many options for getting rid of old and broken toys that are better for the environment.

Toy manufacturers are even reconsidering how they make toys and providing options for families to recycle old toys to their company to reduce the carbon footprint. Here are a few ideas for discarding old toys:

Table of Contents

This is a close look at a person carrying a box of toys for donation.

If your old toys aren’t broken or damaged too badly, you can always donate them. Some organizations that will take gently used toys include shelters, child care centers, and churches. Remember to check with these places in your community before donating to make sure they can use the items you are trying to donate.

Another option to consider is bringing old toys to a place like Goodwill. They don’t just take clothes. Most Goodwills will take furniture, household items, and toys. Always check with your local organizations to see if they can use any of your old items. It’s always good to check first before bringing your toys and realizing they aren’t needed, or they can’t take them. 

Repair

Are your toys broken? Can they be easily repaired? If a toy gets broken and it’s a simple fix, you may want to try repairing it instead of throwing it away or purchasing another one.

For example, maybe one of the buttons broke off a controller for a video game console. You can check with video game repair shops or another toy repair shop to see if they have the button or check with the manufacturer to see if you can get a replacement. Lego is one company that will replace or sell missing Lego pieces.

Once the toy is repaired, your child can continue to use it, or you can donate or sell it. That’s entirely up to you. At least you have options.

Recycle

This is a close look at a bunch of toys made of tin.

Another option is to recycle an old toy. However, this could get tricky because your city may not accept the toy to recycle with your other household items. Most toys are made with multiple different pieces and materials.

The types of plastics a toy is made with will often affect whether it can be recycled because some plastics are not recyclable. Verify with your local recycling program to see if they can recycle toys. You may have to break apart toys into different materials to recycle them. For instance, a toy car is made up of different materials. Separate the wheels from the car’s body and other car pieces that may be a different material.

It may be hard to identify what type of plastic the toys are made of. Some pieces may have a recycling stamp on them to find what type of plastic it is made from. You can use Earth 911 Recycling Search to look up the type of plastic a toy is made of using the stamp or by looking up the toy in the search field.

You can also try TerraCycle. Their company has partnered with different organizations and provides a way for families to recycle their old and broken toys. They separate the toy into different materials and then reuse the materials to make a new product like a park bench. They do this through a partnership with Toms of Maine.

It’s easy to recycle with TerraCycle. You log into their website, choose a zero waste box for the category you will be recycling, fill the box with items you want to recycle, and ship it back to TerraCycle using a prepaid label. TerraCycle will do the rest. According to their site, they accept toys or toy pieces, cards, dice, game boards, board game packaging, books with sound, handheld electronic games and players, remote control vehicles, electronic stuffed animals, baby toys, building sets, stuffed animals, puzzle pieces, game pieces, and action figures. They have partnered with different toy manufacturers like Hasbro and L.O.L. Surprise! to create free recycling programs for their toys.

Sell

This is a close look at a collection of vintage tin toys on display with price tags.

Another option for old toys is to sell them. Some toys may be a hot commodity and go up in value or hold their value over time. Some of these toys include Legos, Hot Wheels, and Barbies. You can try selling toys at garage sales, Facebook marketplace, or apps like LetGo. You can try selling valuable items on eBay or at your local game store or reseller. When selling, be honest about the item’s condition, so buyers know what they are purchasing. 

Fast Stats

  • 1/2 of all manufactured plastic becomes trash in less than a year.
  • The United States recycles 9% of plastic trash.
  • Plastic toys account for 90% of the toy market, and most toys are produced from an unrecyclable type of plastic.
  • 40% of toys gifted during the holiday season are broken by the spring.
  • 90% of toys are made from plastic.
  • 3.9% of annual revenue from toy manufacturers is required to alleviate damage to the environment caused by plastics.
  • 55% of parents admit to throwing away toys.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are toys recyclable? If so Where?

Toys that are most easily recyclable are made from recycled material. Green Toys is a toy company that uses recycled plastic and other environmentally friendly materials to make its toys a green toy. Lego has also begun to create more sustainable items, like their leaves, bushes, and trees, made with plastics made from sugarcane.

What toy materials are recyclable?

Children’s toys are made from a variety of materials. Plastics are the hardest to recycle. Check your toy for a stamp that shows the materials it’s made of, and look it up on Earth 911 Recycling Search to identify if you can recycle the material.

Metal toys are the easiest to be recycled as most scrap yards will accept the items. Call your local scrapyard to make sure. Electronic toys are made from a combination of metal and plastics.

To recycle, separate the materials — metal, plastic, and electronic components — so you can recycle them separately. Electronic components may be able to be recycled at your local electronic stores. Wooden toys are often durable and can usually be cleaned up and given away. Recycling a wooden toy depends on what the toy is treated with.

All-natural wood stains can be composted. Painted toys can not be composted, so they will have to be thrown out or used for something else. 

Are L.O.L. Doll containers recyclable?

Yes, they are. L.O.L. Surprise! packaging, accessories, and products can be recycled through the companies’ partnership with TerraCycle. 

How can you be sure to buy a recyclable toy?

You can check with the toy company to see what the toys are made of and whether they have a program to recycle their products. More toy companies are trying to be sustainable, so check with them first before buying. That is the best way to ensure your toy can be recycled. 

Are Fisher-Price toys recyclable?

Yes. In 2019, Mattel announced its goal of using 100% recycled, bio-degradable, or recyclable materials in its products and toy packaging by 2030. They also have a partnership with How2Recycle, which means that their packaging and toys follow packing and toy recycling instructions.

Is Little Tikes plastics recyclable?

Yes. Little Tikes toys are made with recyclable plastics. They even have a Go Green! Line of toys that are made with recycled plastics.

Can a plastic toy be recycled in the UK?

Yes. Just check with your local recycling program to see which plastics they can recycle? Or reach out to the toy manufacturer and see if they have a program to recycle their toys.

Is Number 7 Plastic Recyclable?

Yes, it can be recycled into plastic lumber and custom-made products. Check with your local recycling facility to see if they will recycle this plastic, as some of these plastics are generally not recycled. Number 7 plastic is a miscellaneous category, as the plastic resins found in this category don’t match the other categories. Polycarbonate, a hard plastic, and polylactic acid, plastic made from plants and is carbon-neutral, fall into this category. Number 7 plastics are often found in three and five-gallon water bottles, bullet-proof materials, sunglasses, DVDs, and nylon. 

Can you recycle toys in curbside recycling?

Not usually. Check with your local recycling center to check. Packaging is often recyclable and can go in your curbside recycling bin — especially if it’s a cardboard box. Always check with your local facility to see what you can put in your curbside bin. 

How do you recycle play-doh?

The containers can be recycled. However, Play-Doh may not be. Depending on the ingredients of the Play-Doh, the ingredients may not be able to be composted. Check with your local facility to learn more about what can be recycled.

References:

  1. Treehugger: Sustainable Solutions for Old Toys
  2. BBC News: Plastic Toys: Is It Time We Cut Back?
  3. Little Tikes: Happy Earth Day! How Little Tikes Is Making Our Toys More Sustainable
  4. Terracycle: Hasbro Toy Recycling Program
  5. Good Housekeeping: Recycling Symbols on Plastics
  6. Terracycle: L.O.L. Surprise! Recycling Program
  7. Mattel: Mattel Announces Goal to Achieve 100% Recycled, Recyclable or Bio-based Plastic Materials in All Products and Packaging By 2030
  8. Mattel: Mattel Joins How2Recycle
  9. Stockton Recycles: Plastic Toys
  10. Treehugger: Sustainable Solutions for Old Toys
  11. Terracycle: Toys – Zero Waste Box
  12. BBC News: Recycling Tips For LOL Dolls And Other Toys
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