How Do Toys Affect The Environment?
If you’re an environmentally conscious parent, you often think about how your child’s toys affect the environment.
Luckily, modern toy production is cleaner than ever. Nonetheless, most of the impact that your child’s toys have on the environment occurs during their manufacturing.
Provided that you recycle your child’s toys, they shouldn’t be doing any damage beyond that which the manufacturing processes incurred via pollution. But as a conscious parent, you’re probably curious about the details.
In this article, we’ll investigate the impact that toys have on the environment so that you can be a more knowledgeable consumer and see how your child’s toy choices have a role in the outside world’s Eco balance.
If you live in the USA, your child’s toys are probably made in a smattering of other countries, ranging from China to Pakistan to Cameroon. Many of the countries in which toys are manufactured do not have stringent environmental regulations.
Even if the toys themselves are safe to use, the environment may be deeply harmed as a consequence of the manufacturing process. Many toys are made from metals or plastics which aren’t clean to produce.
Children’s toys that are made of metal can be extremely bad for the environment. The metal toy production chain is comprised of:
- Prospecting for minerals
- Developing a mine
- Expanding the mine
- Transporting the raw ores to a smelter
- Smelting the ore
- Reforging the ore into an alloy
- Making ingots of the alloy
- Shipping the alloy ingots to the toy manufacturer
- Reforging the ingots into toys
- Shipping the toys to distributors
Each step in this chain carries a significant potential for damage to the environment. The act of prospecting for minerals often involves following geological survey results to certain mineral-dense areas — which are in the wilderness — and then drilling to confirm a vein of ore.
The area around the prospecting site will be heavily disturbed by human activity. At best, the surrounding ecosystem will be heavily stressed. At worst, it will be destroyed by an unsuccessful prospecting venture alone.
After prospecting an ore mine is developed. The mine can either be a strip mine which is horrendous for the environment and totally destroys the entire ecosystem from bedrock up, or it can be a shaft mine which only destroys the ecosystem around the entrance of the mine.
Either way, eventually the ore that the mine produces must be transported — harming the environment further via carbon release into the atmosphere — and then smelted. During smelting, the ores are heated to high temperatures, using a lot of energy.
Using energy necessitates — you guessed it — releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the smelting process releases poisonous gases into the environment. The smelting process also generates vast amounts of useless waste called slag.
Slag is loaded into massive trains while it is still molten and then is often dumped in a massive pit called a slag pile. Slag piles are areas which poison groundwater and render the entire area unsuitable for any kind of life.
Eventually, the metal makes its way to the toy manufacturer. The toy manufacturer will reforge the metal to fit the needs of the toy, causing a small additional amount of environmental harm. Indeed, the manufacturing step of the process is the least noxious for the environment.
After manufacturing, the toy gets shipped to the distributor where you can purchase it for your child. The amount of damage to the environment is far from negligible when it comes to toy manufacturing from metal, which is one reason why metal toys are not as popular anymore.
Even if metal toys are less common because of their negative impact on the environment, their cousins, the plastic toys, are more common than ever. Plastic toys have the potential to be just as harmful as metal toys for the environment when taking their production chain into account.
Plastics are derived from petroleum, which comes from deep in the earth. Much like with metals, petroleum’s prospecting process is very destructive, as is its harvesting process.
As you probably know, there are few environmental protections which are strong enough to resist the push of an oil company’s desire to exploit the oil in an area.
This means that in some small part, your child’s plastic toys are derived from oil which had to destroy an environment to be harvested. While it is theoretically possible to harvest oil without damaging the environment — like via a deep-sea well — these methods are imperfect in reality.
Oil spills are common news, and they wreak havoc on the environment when they occur. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that a deep-sea well isn’t displacing many different organisms which we don’t even know exist.
Land-based oil drilling causes groundwater pollution, soil degradation, and widespread leaching of toxic drilling chemicals. It also requires clear-cutting of the entire environment around the oil well. There’s no way to harvest oil cleanly.
Eventually, this oil makes its way to the plastic factory which then sells the plastic to your child’s toy manufacturer. At the plastic factory, the oil is treated with many chemicals. These chemicals emit gases as they are used to create plastic.
The gases are vented into the environment, which degrades air quality to the point of being unlivable in the area surrounding the factory. Plastic factories are often constructed in dry areas like deserts to minimize their negative impact on the environment.
Nonetheless, the toxic chemicals emitted from plastic factories make it into the atmosphere as particulates, which are harmful to human health even if they do not necessarily contribute to global warming.
Eventually, the plastic is shipped to the toy manufacturer. Shipping nearly always uses trucks, boats, or trains which dump carbon into the atmosphere.
Subsequently that carbon in the atmosphere contributes to global warming and reduced air quality. In some areas, it may cause massive smog storms.
Of course, these far consequences are not necessarily the entire fault of toy manufacturing.
But toy manufacturing is indeed a contributor to these negative environmental impacts. There’s practically no way to avoid it when you take a wide view of the situation.
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to fully eschew plastics because of how ubiquitous they are.
Wooden Toy Manufacturing
Wooden toys and puzzles have the potential to be the exception to the rule regarding toy manufacturing harming the environment. It is possible to grow toy grade wood sustainably and cheaply. It’s also possible to build toys using wood that is harvested using environmentally harmful procedures.
Logging can have many bad impacts on forest ecosystems. These impacts include reducing their biodiversity, reducing soil quality, and weakening the forest’s ability to handle stressors like human activity nearby.
Especially in areas that have been extensively deforested, your child’s toys may have contributed at least somewhat to the demand for wood that cause the environmental destruction.
There isn’t a good way of knowing exactly how or where your child’s wooden toys came from unless the manufacturer specifically boasts that they are eco-friendly.
In conclusion, your child’s toys are broadly harmful to the environment owing to the way that they are constructed. Don’t fret — it’s possible to ethically purchase toys. Be sure to purchase from a manufacturer which prides itself on being eco-friendly.
If you are careful about the kinds of toys that you purchase and who you purchase them from, your child’s toys won’t be the worst offenders when it comes to the environment.
If you’re really interested in minimizing the environmental impact of your child’s toys altogether, you might consider making your toys from scratch at home using reclaimed materials.
If you make your child’s toys at home, you’ll know exactly how much impact you’re making on the environment.