12 best eco-friendly toys that are worth investing in
Avoid the flimsy throwaways and invest in something that's good for the environment, and that your kids will love for years
You’re not going to save the planet with your choice of child’s toy.
But there are choices that the eco-minded parent can make that could at least cut the amount by which your little one adds to the world’s landfill, or contribute to problems such as low-paid labour or unsustainable forestry.
For those who despair at the sea of plastic tat and disposable party bag trinkets that litter their living rooms, it might offer some solace to know that there are alternatives, albeit not stocked high and prominently in your average high street shop.
Below are a selection of products that between them cover a wide range of toy types, including imaginative play, dressing up, outdoors, bath time and board games.
We have looked for toys that are made from sustainable and/ or organic and non-toxic materials, and that are built to last – nothing that ends up in a tip within months can be that great for the planet.
They also needed to be reasonably widely available, and of course, be fun for small people. Not everyone has an unlimited budget to spend on toys, and many of these eco versions are undeniably more expensive than their less sustainable competitors, but should last longer and don’t come at a cost to the planet.
From bubbles to books, here are our favourites.
Dr Zigs my first giant bubble kit: £19.99, Dr Zigs
Dr Zigs is a revelation. Any parent of small children will tell you that bubbles are a sure-fire crowd pleaser, but normally this entails plenty of small plastic bottles and chemicals. Not in this case. Made in the UK by a small, Snowdonia-based company that oozes eco-credentials, Dr Zigs bubble mixture is fully biodegradable and palm oil and phosphate-free, and comes in 10x concentrate to massively reduce packaging, while the 25cm wooden wands and rope used to create the bubble are made from sustainably-sourced wood and unbleached cotton.
None of this would be worth much if the bubbles weren’t so pleasingly huge. A great option for parties and sunny days in the garden or at the beach. This kit is suitable for children from age three and claims to have enough mixture for 1000 bubbles; more mixture can be bought separately and a bigger jumbo kit (£29.99) is available and has longer 40cm wands that are better for children of about seven and above.
Toy Box Club subscription: £35 per month, Toy Box Club
A big part of the sustainability problem with toys is the sheer volume of them that are produced, requiring raw materials, energy, transportation and packaging. And after all that, as copious parents will attest, a young child’s affection for any given plaything can be depressingly short-lived. Toy Box Club aims to reduce some of that waste by offering a monthly subscription service whereby for a fee of £35 per month including delivery and collection, members get a cardboard box full of age-appropriate and gender-neutral toys (cleaned with eco-friendly products) on loan.
Our box, which was aimed at two to four-year-olds (the oldest the club currently caters for), contained a good range of mostly non-plastic and wholesome distractions including a number sorting puzzle, a jumbo jigsaw and a book that featured its own keyboard for learning simple tunes. Anything that becomes impossible to part with can be purchased. Not cheap, but an inspired idea based around the principle that we all fundamentally need to produce and buy less stuff. It is also great way of avoiding dud toys, and subscriptions can be cancelled at any time so could be bought as a time-limited present.
Weaving Hope Fairtrade dinosaur play set: £25, Not On The Highstreet
Environmentally-conscious new parents are likely to go gooey over this adorable baby playset, made from cotton that has been woven on handlooms in Sri Lanka and which is coloured using non-toxic dyes. Inside a travel-friendly zip up pouch, which opens out into a 35cm diameter circular base decorated with a river and grass, are six small soft toy dinosaurs and two trees. The whole thing can be machine washed at 30 degrees and the brand Weaving Hope is a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation.
Jumbo Catch The Mouse: £12.99, Amazon
Catch the Mouse is one of a new range of games from Jumbo that are made entirely from recycled materials, begging the question why more manufacturers don’t follow suit. This one is a game of reactions, in which the player who is “Lightning the cat” must slam a (recycled) plastic paw down on top of the other players’ mice before the rodents can be pulled out of harm’s way. The game doesn’t look like much on first appearances.
A small cardboard box contains the paw, four small mice on sticks, a dice and a cardboard cheese, while the instructions are online only in a bid to save paper. However, our young testers loved playing it, trapping mice with gusto, and the game’s minimal, lightweight parts would also make this a great option for taking on holiday.
‘How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear’ by Jess French, published by Nosy Crow: £9.10, Amazon
This hardback, produced in partnership with the National Trust, is admittedly a teensy bit preachy. But in our experience, kids actually like a bit of that – it means they can preach in turn at their parents. Furthermore, it is full of pleasingly illustrated wildlife fact-files, themed around different kinds of habitat, and practical tips on small ways in which families can help the planet, such as by drawing pictures on both sides of a piece of paper and packing a “no rubbish” lunchbox.
Wild Thing Toys Bluebell Fairtrade doll: £20, Loubiou
This brilliant (and pleasingly un-pink) doll from Wild Thing Toys was an instant hit with our three-year-old tester and is full of character as well as being Fairtrade Certified. She can be cleaned with a damp sponge or cloth (though not in a machine) and the manufacturers say that if you remove her cape, she’d be suitable from birth onwards (3+ with the cape). Bluebell is one of a set of charming woodland characters from the same company, which uses hand-loomed cotton and environmentally-friendly dyes in their products.
Sew Heart Felt barny owl head dress and wings: £35, Not On The Highstreet
Any parent looking for an alternative to the super-flammable swathes of polyester Disney princess and Marvel hero costumes could do a lot worse than to investigate Sew Heart Felt, an Oxfordshire-based brand created by award winning designer Sonia Spencer. We loved this barney owl set, which is made from organic felt, coloured with environmentally-friendly dyes and put together by skilled craftsmen in Rajasthan. The mask and wings are both pretty diminutive – the former is designed to be worn on the forehead rather than over the face – but long ribbons mean that children up to the age of about 10 could happily wear this set over some suitably coloured clothes and be transformed into a wise bird.
Plan Toys croquet set: £39.95, Babipur
Plan Toys use renewable energy, water-based dyes and rubber wood from exhausted plantations in Thailand to make high-end and generally adorable sustainable toys, and this croquet set is a great example. It comes with four balls decorated with different animals plus wickets and mallets, all sorted in a canvas bag, and can be used indoors (as long as stay civilised) or out. Suitable from age three.
Green Toys ferry boat: £23.99, Ocado
Yes it’s plastic, but this is recycled plastic – recycled American milk bottles to be precise. Plus, it is packaged in recycled and recyclable materials that are printed with soy inks, just to further burnish those eco-credentials. It’s loads of fun both in the bath and out of it. It includes two mini cars and can even go in the dishwasher if it gets grotty. The recommended age is three and upwards but it should be fine for younger children; though please do your own checks and decide what is best for your child.
Wild & Wolf petit collage activity soft baby toy: £25.54, Amazon
Made from 100 per cent organic cotton, coloured with non-toxic dyes and stuffed with recycled bottle fibres, this cuddly bear (there’s also a bunny in the range) is an ideal baby present for eco-minded new parents. The recipient infant will still dribble on it, though. It features a wooden ring teether, a pleasingly crinkly apple on a vibrating pull-cord, and ribbons and ears for tiny fingers to fiddle with and cling on to.
Ailefo modelling clay: £18.95, Conscious Craft
Danish-made Ailefo clay is created using organic ingredients and natural dyes from fruits, vegetables and sugar. This tube contains five 100g tubs but no perfume or parabens, and the colours – brown, greens, pink and yellow – seem to invite the construction of flowers, trees and other environmentally-minded dioramas. Not a product for using on your finest coffee table; the natural dyes mean that the colour might transfer slightly, although it can be removed easily from hands with water and soap. Suitable for toddlers upwards, although smaller children need to be supervised as even organic modelling clay is not an ideal breakfast.
Alphabet Jigsaws world map: £40, Babipur
This is the sort of jigsaw that you want to leave out on the dining table. It looks gorgeous, with chunky pieces made from sustainable solid wood, painted in non-toxic paints, but more importantly is both fun and educational to complete. Can you slot the Caspian Sea into place without resorting to Google Maps? Marketed at children aged six and up.
The verdict: Eco-friendly toys
For its ingeniousness in offering an eco-version of a childhood staple, our best buy is the Dr Zigs bubble kit. The dinosaur play set would also be a lovely, sustainably-made keepsake toy for any baby and for anyone who is prepared to share for the sake of the planet, Tox Box Club is a great concept.
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