Can you put plastic toys in the recycling bin?

Oct 27, 2023

Anyone with kids will know that at some stage, even the best loved toys fall out of favour, leaving many parents with lofts, cupboards and the space under the bed full of once treasured items. Many of these discarded or broken toys will be made from plastic, leaving some uncertainty over what to do with them when they’re no longer wanted.

 Whilst we all become increasingly eco-conscious in our day-to-day lives, the toy industry is still a big producer of plastic products. This, coupled with the fact that many parents don’t know what to do with plastic toys when their kids get bored of them, means they’re a big environmental concern. 

In fact, The British Heart Foundation reported back in 2019 that a quarter of parents surveyed admitted to throwing away toys that are in good working order, so it’s understandable that you may wonder what to do with them instead. Should plastic toys go in your household recycling bin?  

Can you put plastic toys in the recycling bin? 

No,you’re not able to put plastic toys in the recycling bin. 

We’re used to putting household plastic in our recycling bins these days - in fact, we’re encouraged to do so! Plastic bottles, tubs and cartons can usually be cleaned and recycled, so you may be under the impression that plastic toys may also join them on the trip to the recycling centre. However, plastic toys are not to be added to the rest of your household plastics in the recycling bin. 

Why can’t I put plastic toys in the recycling bin? 

Plastic toy recycling is made difficult because they are usually made out of hard plastic, and this is not a material that can be processed as part of your household recycling; everything that goes in here is generally made up of soft plastic. If you think about the sorts of toys that, for example, come in as part of fast food meals, they’re made of very different stuff from your fizzy drinks bottle! 

You’ll also find that many plastic toys also have components made of other materials, such as wood and metal, which would also cause problems if included with the rest of your general recycling.   

What would happen if I put plastic toys in the recycling bin? 

Putting hard plastic in the recycling bin means that using the contents of your bin to make other materials, thus ‘recycling’, is compromised. This is because hard plastic can contain chemicals to ‘bond’ it (making it the hard and durable material that it is), causing potentially dangerous consequences when being melted down and remoulded. 

Putting plastic toys in with the rest of your recycling affects not only the integrity of everything else in your recycling bin, but stops the recycling centre selling the materials on to sustainable businesses who want to make other things out of your household plastic. 

Why are so many toys made of plastic? 

Plastic has become such a popular material for child’s toys for a few reasons. The main one is durability - plastic doesn’t rot like wood or rust like metal,withstanding the rough and tumble of life with a child of any age. 

Hard plastic can also be produced in bright and crazy colours, is easy to clean, and is generally cheaper to buy than more sustainable alternatives. It’s no surprise that plastic toys make up the majority of those produced. 

How can you recycle plastic toys? 

What you do with unwanted plastic toys depends on whether they’re in good condition or not, and therefore could be loved again by another child. Even if your children have grown out of their old toys, they could still have a lot of life left in them! Here’s what you could do with your child’s old plastic toys:

Take them to the charity shop

Preloved toys can often be found as bargains in charity shops, so that should be your first port of call if you’ve got some good quality used plastic toys that you need to get rid of. Not only does this give other children the opportunity to enjoy the toys you have, but it also enables the charity to make some money too. In addition to this, it reduces the demand for brand new toys, which is good news for the environment. 

A similar alternative is to donate unwanted toys to a service such as Toys4Life, which aims to tackle plastic toy pollution by finding new homes for boxes of toys in ‘third world countries and socially deprived areas’, taking care of the logistics and giving toys to children who may not be able to afford new ones. 

Sell them at a boot sale

We’re willing to bet that a bit of extra cash could always be handy, and a boot sale is the perfect place to sell your child’s old plastic toys. 50ps and £1s all add up, making the early start worth it for you, and potentially providing hours of fun to another family. 

Give them away on Facebook 

Whether you choose Facebook Marketplace, or one of the many local groups you’ll no doubt find, handing on plastic toys that are no longer wanted is made easy if you offer them for free. Generally, you’ll be able to get someone to collect from your house within a matter of hours, getting the toys off your hands quickly and easily. 

Some recycling centres 

If your kids’ plastic toys have come to the end of their natural life, giving them away or reselling them may not be an option. In many cases, they’re unfortunately considered general household waste, and they’re therefore destined for the bin, followed by landfill or incineration. However, we would always recommend checking with your local recycling centre, as some do accept plastic toys. 

If your local recycling centre is one of the ones that accepts plastic toys, you should remove anything that isn’t plastic, such as batteries and metal parts,so that they can be properly processed when they reach their destination.

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