Alternatives to plastic Christmas toys

We’ve been reminiscing lately about Christmases past, and our favourite childhood toys from the 90s, 80s (which some of our younger team members don’t even remember – way to feel old!) and more recently, in our recent blog posts: Top Christmas Gifts from 10 Years Ago, Top Christmas Gifts from 20 Years Ago, and Top Christmas Gifts from 30 Years Ago.

We had fond memories of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Scalextric, Lego and other classics like the Nintendo SNES (I still have mine!), as well as the audible horrors of Furby and the likes. However, one thing stood out.


So much plastic. It seems like every bestselling toy of the past 30+ years was made of masses of plastic, and not much else. How many of these do you still have around, still play with, or have passed down to your own children? Probably not much if anything, particularly if it was an electronic toy. While retro LEGO sets and toy cars can still fetch a good price and are a collector’s dream, the same can’t be said for most of those toys that were broken, beaten or chewed!

Now we’re not saying that plastic is evil with a capital E – it’s an incredible invention and has huge advantages in hospitals, healthcare, sanitation and beyond. But perhaps making toys that kids may only play with for a season or even for 5 minutes until they’re bored is not the best idea. We can’t be expected to keep all of these toys to reuse forever, and many don’t last long enough to pass them on to younger kids, so what are the alternatives?

I’ve started focusing on buying kids (and adults) toys and gifts that are as sustainable as possible, and there are loads of options out there! So what are the alternatives to plastic Christmas toys?

Buy toys built to be passed down – sturdy recycled plastic toys (like our favourite Green Toys) that don’t require batteries or electronics can at least last to be passed on to another child after yours has grown out of it, and wooden toys (such as Lanka Kade) can also last for many years with care. They’re also more sustainable.

Our favourites:

Green Toys recycled toys
Green Toys

Lanka Kade wooden puzzles and traditional toys
Lanka Kade

Sophie La Girafe natural rubber baby toys
Sophie la Girafe

Petit Collage wooden toys
Petit Collage

Buying ideas:

See our series of blog posts about how to have a less wasteful / more sustainable Christmas!

You may not want to be restrictive amongst family and friends, but I know parents who have asked for gifts to be non-plastic toys, or for toys that don’t require batteries. I can see how that could be a stress saver on Christmas day and after.

Make your own – One of my favourite toys as a baby was a tiny knitted bear my mother had handmade while she was pregnant, along with lots of baby clothes for me. I wish I’d picked up the knitting gene, but I’m definitely creative in other ways. If you’re feeling creative you can make all sorts of things for kids and grown-ups, and it’s a great option for saving money if you don’t have a huge budget.

Buy clothing or books – organic cotton or other natural fibre clothing, and paper/card books are at least biodegradable after their life so won’t be hanging about in landfill. We also tend to hang onto treasured books, pass down baby clothes that don’t fit any more, and can even make other clothing with fabric.

Buy experiences – give gifts that make memories and don’t end up in landfill – such as concert or show tickets, a cinema trip, the theatre/panto, or even a little trip away from home.

Buy memberships – family or child memberships to local attractions, the National Trust, a theme park, cinema, a MakerSpace or a sports activity can keep on giving!

Buy kits – craft kits or science kits for kids can be brilliant fun and teach them valuable skills too.

Buy subscriptions – there are lots of fun subscriptions for kids popping up these days, from science activity packs to crafts, kids cookery, comic books and more. Plus, who wouldn’t want a recurring gift regularly arriving through the mailbox?

How can we reuse those old toys?

That’s another blog post in itself, but there are lots of options for reusing old plastic toys and ensuring they don’t end up in landfill just yet (or hopefully, at all). Let’s get back to fixing things (or passing on to a handy person who can fix said thing), upcycling, pestering the manufacturers for spare parts (or 3D printing a new one!), and of course passing unwanted toys onto those who need them or to charity shops. Restoring paintwork of retro must-haves can earn you some cash on eBay or collector’s sites, or return them to a new look you’d like to keep. A friend of mine restores original GameBoy machines by bleaching up the yellowed plastic outers, upgrading the lights and fixing any electronic damage – and there’s a long list of people clamouring to still buy them!

If something is definitely a lost cause, use services like TerraCycle – for those plastics that can’t be recycled via local authorities, TerraCycle actually break down the components and make the plastic into pellets which can be used to make other products. Collection boxes can be a little pricey, but it’s be. Some companies (like ourselves!) actually buy zero-to-landfill waste services from local waste companies directly, which operate a similar approach. TerraCycle helps bring that option to the individual person at home.

We’d love to hear your ideas for sustainable Christmas, gift ideas and more – check us out on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or let us know here!

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