Old Toys and their Toxins: An Obstacle in the Transition to a Circular Economy



Playing with used plastic toys could be harmful to children’s health. 84% of old plastic toys and dolls analysed by researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden were found to contain chemicals that can impair children's growth, development, and reproductive abilities. According to the experts, these toxins provide a barrier to the reuse and recycling of materials in the future within a circular economy. The current make-use-dispose mentality wastes resources and depletes the planet's limited resources. A Circular Economy Action Plan was endorsed by the European Parliament in 2021. It promotes the reuse as well as the repair and recycling of products and materials.


But can all products be recycled?

The multidisciplinary Center for Future Chemical Risk Assessment and Management Strategies conducted a research study under the direction of Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth of the University of Gothenburg (FRAM). It explored the environmental effects of plastics and chemicals contained in plastic toys. Researchers examined the chemical composition of 157 distinct toys, both new and vintage, for the study. "The older products had much higher levels of hazardous chemicals. For instance, it was discovered that several of the old balls had phthalate concentrations reaching more than 40% of the toy's weight, which is 400 times above the permitted limit", explained Professor Bethanie Carney Almroth.

A project named LEGO® Replay seeks to persuade customers to donate their used LEGO bricks to organizations that support children's charities. As one of the company's initial efforts toward a circular economy, the program is now being tested in the US. The LEGO Group claims that 97% of its bricks are already in use and being shared among owners, with many being passed down through families or generations of friends. Nonetheless, the corporation aims to raise this percentage. The circular economy is a necessary step in the process of creating a better world for future generations, as LEGO Group’s Vice President of Environmental Responsibility Tim Brooks has stated.

Toy subscription services are being created that allow toys to be used by more individuals. Families in Hong Kong, for example, can subscribe to Happy Baton's service to receive monthly curated boxes of toys. Age-appropriate toys that support the child's growth can be chosen for the box, and bigger items such as scooters and tricycles can be included. To extend the lifetime of the toys, the organisation also provides a collection service for toys that are no longer wanted or needed.

To reflect the principles of a circular economy, toys must be repairable when they get damaged for such reuse and sharing models to function effectively. Currently, 90% of toys are made out of plastic, which can be extremely durable but is also often fragile. Broken toys are quickly thrown away. Toy Rescue was created by the 3D printing technology company Dagoma to provide spare parts for damaged toys in response to this. Dagoma has compiled a collection of 3D-printable files for the most frequently lost or damaged components for the most well-liked toys of the past 40 years. It includes innumerable pieces that may be printed using a material suitable for the original toy. These include, for example, doll arms, dinosaur tails, and vehicle wheels, amongst many other parts. It is also possible to request files for missing toy components.

These initiatives are crucial to prevent the unnecessary and precocious disposal of recyclable and reusable toys in the environment or landfills. Together, they represent important steps toward a circular economy where toys are produced from renewable, recycled and recyclable materials and are used more frequently. It is important to consider the toy industry when talking about a circular economy from a lifecycle standpoint. A toy is an educational tool that serves as the foundation for young children's social environment comprehension as well as their personal development, skills, and capacities. Consumers must reevaluate their relationship with toys and insert the toy industry into the context of the circular economy.