Two thousand years from now, when archaeologists dig up our landfills, think of the
non- biodegradable playthings they'll discover: Super-soaker water guns, impossibly
pectoral action figures, and that fashion plate for the ages, Barbie, her synthetic
blondness impervious to the ravages of passing millennia. According to the Society of the
Plastics Industry, a trade association in Washington, D.C., 71 million pounds of
high-density polyethylene plastic went into the making of toys, novelties, and sporting
goods in 1994 alone.
Unfortunately, early attempts to wed green consciousness to child's play gave birth to
such snoozers as juice-jug bowling pins. But just as vegetarian cuisine has evolved from
penance to pleasure, the spirit of earth-friendly amusements has shifted from dutiful to
Nature-loving gift givers will be buoyed by the eco-conscious turn some toy
manufacturers are taking. To reduce waste, they're beginning to make playthings out of
recycled materials and proffering some classics sure to brighten a child's special
Plastic drink containers make up Holbrook-Patterson Inc.'s Noch-Blox building logs.
Budding architects can build houses, cabins, and barns with these blocks knowing that
every pound of them keeps at least ten milk jugs out of the dump. And Holbrook's toy
vehicles will satisfy the aspiring carpooler.
Two of Huffy's bicycles give new meaning to the word recycle. The frame of the Metaloid
is made from 120 aluminum cans and industrial aluminum scrap. Huffy's Eco-Terra salvages
material in an even bigger way, using plastic containers and a percentage of reused steel
for the bike's pedals, grips, handlebar, and frame. The manufacturer of the archetypal
little red wagon, Radio Flyer, is also hitting the environmental trail with the Earth
Wagon, which boasts wood-like planks cunningly formed from old plastic jugs.
Rounding out the panoply of presents is another recreational mainstay. Thanks to The
Nature Company, stores are now offering a splashy Frisbee molded from 60-percent-recycled
While turning post-consumer plastic into toys is a good way to reduce waste, the
recycling process itself can be polluting. Certain types of plastics release toxic fumes
into the environment when they are melted for recycling. So why not bypass them entirely
and take advantage of the limitless craft possibilities afforded by nature and human
Many children's crafts books can help adults take play activities beyond pummeling a
virtual opponent silly and scoring points. With Raintree/Steck- Vaughn's excellent series
Salvaged as a guide, tykes can arrange twigs, feathers, shells, and leaves to create
musical instruments, puzzles, mosaics, and jewelry. If the weather's not nice enough to
collect fodder from out-of-doors, kids can rummage through the kitchen for materials to
make creative prints. Every child can be a Picasso by using textured fruits, veggies, and
cooking utensils to print images with nontoxic paint.
On the days when it seems no amount of cajoling can wrest the kids from the television,
stir up a little goop. It's a snap to whip up: in a large bowl, mix 1/2 cup warm water,
1/2 cup Elmer's Glue, and a dash of food coloring (for some reason, green coloring is a
big hit, and the sicklier the shade, the better). In another bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon of
Borax in 1/2 cup warm water. Mix the two together, stirring well and pouring off any
excess water. Older kids will love this dripping goo and will play in messy contentment
for hours. Just don't forget to have them wear old clothes, and caution them not to put
any of the glop in their mouths.
Little people might sometimes feel overwhelmed when they hear about threats to the
environment. Promoting children's natural joyfulness and curiosity with carefully selected
gifts or creative projects provides a less-frightening way to educate pint-sized activists
on planetary stewardship. They might also do a world of good in restoring grown-ups' hope.
Julie Bourland is a San Francisco--based freelance writer.
Books in the Salvaged series are available from (800) 531- 5015. Additional
gooey recipes abound in the Kid's Squish Book, from Marlor Press at (800) 621-1918.