Don't Throw Old Toys Away. Here's What To Do Instead

3 million toys have been sent to landfill in the last six months.
Geraint Rowland Photography via Getty Images

With Christmas coming up, you might already be thinking about which toys you can get rid of in order to make space for the influx of new stuff that will inevitably be heading your way.

But if there’s one thing experts really don’t want you to do, it’s to throw those old toys in the bin – and yes, that includes broken ones.

According to the Recycle Your Electricals campaign, a whopping 3 million toys have been sent to landfill in the last six months – to put that into perspective, that’s enough to fill Hamleys on Regent Street nearly 14 times over.

The thing is, lots of toys can be given a new lease of life – either donated to charity shops or schemes such as The Toy Project, YoungPlanet and Toys4life – or, if they’re not fit to be played with, they can be recycled into items such as life-saving medical equipment, playgrounds or even wind turbines.

How to recycle toys

Around 60% of the most popular children’s toys of the last decade are electrical – whether they’re smart watches, battery-powered trains, soft toys that sing, karaoke microphones or doll houses with working lights – so chances are you’ve got some sitting in your house that need to be given a new home.

Anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled – but batteries or bulbs need to be removed before you take items to a recycling point. Likewise, any personal data, or memory and SIM cards should be removed from devices.

You can finding your nearest toy drop off point via this handy Recycling Locator.

Joanne Batty, from Leeds, has two daughters aged eight and 11 years old. She said there are 40+ unused electrical toys gathering dust in their home.

“We try to donate them to charity shops but if a toy is broken, we’d normally just throw it away. I didn’t realise you shouldn’t just bin them and that anything with a plug, battery or cable can actually be recycled,” she said.

“It makes me so happy knowing that when we have broken electrical toys or do a big clear out in the future, we can give them a second life.”

Tips for decluttering toys

Get kids involved

Decluttering expert Vicky Silverthorn recommends getting kids involved in the process to create good habits. “Whilst decluttering with my daughter, I leave a small manageable pile for us to go through together, making it a really positive process,” she says.

Instead of “You’re too old to play with this now”, you could say “Do you think another child would enjoy this more, now you have your new toy you love so much?” or “We won’t have enough room for your new toys when it’s your birthday”.

Keep storage simple

The tidying expert advises against over-complicated storage methods.

“Children love being able to easily grab what they want to play with, they don’t love battling with colour-coding or intricate levels of organisation. Use baskets and drawers and always put them back in the same location to create a natural system,” she suggests.

Try a toy subscription

If you’re fed up of your home overflowing with toys, toy subscriptions can be a great way to keep clutter to a minimum. Whirli, for example, send new toys which can then be returned once they’re done playing and swapped for something different. Prices start from £12.16 per month.

Organise your toy wires, cables and chargers

If you don’t know where something is, then it could end up being replaced unnecessarily. Silverthorn recommends giving toy chargers and cables a designated home so they’re all in one place.

“Divide them into the categories that work for you whether it’s by brand or by type. Put a label on the plug or even around the wire so you can find what you are looking for easily,” she says. “Putting the work in initially will save you time and money long term.”

Store old toys properly

Saving children’s toys for future siblings is a great way to reuse toys and keep costs down, but it’s important to store them properly – especially e-toys.

“The batteries should be taken out before being packed away,” says the decluttering pro. “Batteries could leak and stop the toys from working in the future, so it’s worth taking the time to do it properly.”

Steer clear of having too many toys out

“Did you know too many toys can cause children stress?” says Silverthorn.

“Think about when you have too many clothes in your wardrobe and you have to fight to find what you need. The choices are overwhelming and decisions are harder.

“This is the same feeling your child gets, only with their young developing minds, they can’t understand why.”

She recommends making sure toys aren’t crammed in their storage spaces and that they’re easy to access, while ensuring the amount and the choices aren’t overwhelming.

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