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  November/December 1996 Features:
Native Environmentalism
First People, Firsthand Knowledge
Return of the Sinkyone
Native Tongues
Saying the World Alive
Ways & Means
Food for Thought
Hearth & Home
Way to Go
Sierra Club Bulletin
Last Words

Sierra Magazine
Hearth & Home: Making Spirits Bright

By Julie Bourland

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 delightful.

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 occasions.

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 polyethylene plastic.

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 ingenuity?

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.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact for more information.

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