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Kid's Green Gift Guide: 15 Alternatives to Landfill

Do you struggle to find gifts for kids who get a ton of toys each Christmas? To me, the idea of adding more piles of plastic to landfills and more pieces for parents to, ouch, step on, pick up, and put away seems crazy.
12/08/2015 05:14pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Photo credit: Joyce Dallal

Do you struggle to find gifts for kids who get a ton of toys each Christmas? To me, the idea of adding more piles of plastic to landfills and more pieces for parents to, ouch, step on, pick up, and put away seems crazy. According to the American Plastics Industry, 90% of the toys awash in our homes are made of plastic, and 40% of them will be broken by April. On the other hand, I can't bear to disappoint a child with an earnest gift that's as welcomed as an apple in a Halloween bag. While I can't change the world in one holiday, I decided I could be more mindful with my purchases to minimize toys-as-more-landfill. So I developed a list of eco-friendly gifts for kids, then screened them for durability and appeal using online reviews. Here's what made my short list.

1. Bella Baby Doll - Age 0+ Hand-made in Germany in the Waldorf tradition. Made with 100% organic cotton terry cloth and filled with pure Bioland wool making them safe for teething babies. At 6.7 inches long, the Bella Baby is the perfect size for babies to hold or to tuck in a stroller or diaper bag.
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2. Cosmos - $59.99 pledge, Age 8+ A set of classic wooden blocks reinvented with modern aerospace forms and a patented magnetic system. Timeless, elegant wooden blocks that inspire creativity and exploration for kids of all ages. Undergoing a Kickstarter campaign. Back this project and teach older kids the value of entrepreneurship. Ships June 2016.

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3. Pattern Play Revolution - $34.95, Age 4+ A colorful introduction to concepts like sorting, symmetry, and fractions. Made of well finished wooden pieces, Pattern Play is a winner of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award, Parent's Choice Gold Award, and Global Educator Seal of Endorsement.
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4. Paper FX Weave Machine - $29.95, Age 6+ Now you can use all that holiday wrapping paper or junk mail and turn it into beautiful purses and bags. New this year, Paper FX Weave Machine is the winner of Toy Retailer's Association Creative Toy of the Year.
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5. Grow Anthology Skateboards - $199+ Handcrafted skateboards made from 75-100 pieces of 100% recycled paper. A new tree is planted for every board sold.
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6. My First Green Toys Shape Sorter - $17.97, Age 6 mo's+ These brightly colored, dishwasher safe shapes help babies recognize colors and shapes and develop fine motor coordination. Made in the USA from 100% recycled plastic milk jugs and feature no BPA, phthalates or PVC. Winner of the Child Eco-Excellence Awards Top 5 Eco Toys and NAPPA Parenting Resources Silver Award.
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7. Magazine Subscriptions on a Tablet - For ideas, go to ParentsChoice.org for their list of magazine award winners...many of them are offered in tablet versions.

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8. Under The Nile Scrappy Dogs - $14.95 for 2 dolls, Age 6 mo's Quirky and cozy soft dolls made from 100% organic Egyptian cotton at a Fair Trade farm. No Azo colorants, BPA, flame retardants, formaldehyde, fragrance, PVC or lead.
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9. Little Green Books - $3.99, Age 4+ Little Green Books teach kids to be eco-friendly. Printed on 100% recycled materials with soy ink, they cover topics such as the earth and recycling. Donate them to the library when done or pass them on to another child.

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10. Global Green Pals - $28, Age 3+ Soft, 12-inch dolls made of 100% organic cotton and stuffed with 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic PET bottle stuffing. Each doll comes with a character tag story offering kid-friendly "green tips" on how to help the Earth. A portion of your purchase supports the earth-saving efforts of One Percent for the Planet.
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11. Great Start Play Draw Create - $19.99, Age 3+ An activity kit featuring dino digs, prehistoric puzzles, dino-finding fun, and step-by-step drawing. Reusable, magnetic, write-on/wipe-off, portable activity kit made from 95% recycled materials and eco-friendly inks.
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12. Plan Toys Play Park Set - $79.99, Age 3+ Made of latex free, sustainable rubberwood, kiln-dried without the use of chemicals, the Play Park set includes: a cable car, figures, bikes, a glider, and turn-able wind turbine. Plan Toys commitment to sustainability includes a Plan Loves the Forest program which has planted over 40,000 trees.
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13. Tin Can Robot - $16.95, Age 8+ Millions of soda cans are tossed away daily. Now kids can recycle one of them by turning it into a cool Tin Can Robot. See also the Tin Can Cable Car and Tin Can Brush Robot.
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14. Keva Contraptions Plank Set - $44.95, Age 7-15 Ball and track sets are a source of endless fascination for kids. Made of simple wooden planks, it encourages creativity, while learning basic concepts in engineering, physics, proportion and balance. Winner of Creative Child Toy of the Year.
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15. Subscription Pre-owned Lego's with Pley - $19.99/month for 6 month plan. Finally a solution for the kid who loves Lego's, but stops playing with them once a project is completed. Order them pre-owned on a subscription basis, ship it back to Pley and get another when you're done. Pieces are sanitized, sets are completed and then shipped back out to customers.
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In the end, the list is subjective and the only way to guarantee that a toy or game doesn't end up as landfill is to donate it or recycle it when a child outgrows it.

Here's How You Can Recycle or Donate Old Toys
  • Amazon - enables you to trade in a wide variety of electronics in exchange for Amazon gift cards. Print out a free shipping label, package it up, and drop it off at a UPS mailbox. It's that easy.
  • Goodwill - Accepts toys and games. Website also features a field guide to find donation bins that benefit non-profits.
  • Freestyle - A non-profit "movement" of over 5300 groups and 9MM members who are giving (and getting) free stuff.
  • Local homeless shelters - Click here for a list of shelters near you.
  • Second Chance Toys - A non-profit on the east coast whose mission is to keep plastic out of landfill by donating toys to local charities
  • U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program - Collects and distributes new toys to children in need, accepting gently used toys, too.
  • Local churches and daycares