Finding eco-friendly toddler toys can be an annoyingly not simple task. With so many options on the market and greenwashing at a high due to customers gaining interest in sustainability, it can be hard to determine which toys are actually eco-friendly and who is just using clever marketing.
But don’t worry, we’ve done some of the homework for you! I will always encourage you to do your own research when possible Here are some of our favorite eco-friendly toddler toys that will keep your little one entertained and environmentally conscious.
Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to some of the products listed in the article. If you choose to click on the links, I earn a commission if you decide to buy the item I recommended. Either way, I only recommend things I’d actually use and would be comfortable recommending to a friend.
Pssst! Looking for no-cost and no-buy toddler toy ideas? Scroll farther down or click here to head to that part of this article. By getting crafty and being willing to use what you already have, you can create a fun toy or cool experience for your kids. Not every playtime needs to start with a buy button.
Different types of sustainable toddler toys
Here I’ll talk about the different materials you’ll see toddler toys being made out of and discuss some of the pros and cons as well as any other, pertinent information. You’ll also see a few recommendations for toys in each category.
There are some clear advantages to opting for wooden toys instead of plastic or electronic ones. For one thing, wooden toys are sturdier and less likely to break. They’re also safer for toddlers to play with since there’s no risk of them ingesting small plastic parts or swallowing batteries.
And wooden toys tend to be more eco-friendly than their plastic counterparts since they can be recycled or composted when they’re no longer needed.
But perhaps the biggest advantage of wooden toys is that they encourage open-ended play and can even help kids focus. Toddlers can use their imaginations to create all sorts of different games and scenarios with a few simple blocks or a set of colorful stacking rings.
- Luke’s Toy Factory makes trucks and building blocks out of sawdust. And they’re manufactured in the U.S.
- Lovevery is a play kit and Montessori-inspired kids toy company for children ages 0-3. They carry lots of wooden toys and other toys that are made from sustainable and organic materials. Their pricing is on the higher side of things, but to be honest, making sustainable kids’ toys costs more money, so that is expected.
Recycled Plastic Toys
Recycled plastic toys are very durable, which is ideal for active toddlers who often put their toys to the test. They’re also easy to clean, so you don’t have to worry about dirt and bacteria accumulating on them.
Here’s the question, though: How much of the toy is composed of recycled plastic? I know that pretty much no one wants to have to research every single item they buy, including a simple kid’s toy. But this is the state of our situation right now, unfortunately. Trying to be an ethical consumer is honestly difficult and time-consuming!
Look for toys that are made from 100% recycled plastic. If they’re made of any new plastic material, they are not sustainable.
Toys made from recycled plastic are usually brightly colored and very eye-catching, which toddlers love and find stimulating. They’re usually quite affordable, so you can stock up on recycled plastic toys without breaking the bank. Sometimes, wooden toy makers can get a bit bougie with the pricing since wooden toys go along the with “Montessori” sad beige aesthetic.
- Green Toys are made with 100% recycled plastic, which is the only percentage that’s actually sustainable. They make baby and toddler toys including cars and trucks, tea sets, wagons, stacking cups, and more.
Natural Fiber Toys
Almost all stuffed animal toys today are made out of polyester, which comes from petrochemicals that pollute the Earth. Back in the day (I know, boomerific of me to say) most stuffies were made out of natural materials that would break down naturally even if they were sent to a landfill. Polyester doesn’t do that. And it’s derived from a non-renewable resource that absolutely wreaks havoc on the environment.
The reason that polyester stuffed animals and other toys are so popular is that they’re inexpensive and can be manufactured at a large scale easier than eco-friendly stuffed animals. These are pros to some extent, but the cons outweigh those pros and now that we know better as a society, we can do better.
Hemp, organic cotton, and wool are all examples of natural fibers that toys can be made out of.
Here are some of the reasons why natural fiber toys are a great choice for toddlers:
- They are safe: Natural fiber toys are made from materials that are non-toxic and free from harmful chemicals. This means that they are safe for your toddler to play with.
- They are durable: Natural fiber toys are designed to withstand rigorous play. This means that they will last longer than other types of toys, saving you money in the long run.
- They are entertaining: Natural fiber toys are available in a wide range of colors, shapes, and textures. This means that there is a toy out there that is sure to appeal to your toddler’s senses.
It’s true that sustainable and well-made toys made of natural fibers will likely be expensive, which is a con when it comes to these kinds of toys. But you may be able to find some on the secondhand market for a better price if you look.
Eco-Friendly Board Games
Board games are a classic activity for toddlers, providing them with a chance to learn new skills while spending time with family and friends.
However, many standard board games are made with materials that are not eco-friendly. For example, some contain plastic pieces that can end up in landfills, while others use paperboard that is not recyclable. Eco-friendly board games are a great alternative for parents who want to reduce their family’s impact on the environment.
These games are typically made with recycled or sustainable materials, such as bamboo or cardboard. In addition, eco-friendly board games often come with fewer pieces, making them easier to store and less likely to end up in the trash.
As parents become more aware of the importance of sustainability, eco-friendly board games are likely to become even more popular. Because board games are great – why not make them eco-friendly?
If there’s a board game classic that you have to have (so many good ones out there) I cannot recommend thrifting enough. Most thrift stores I’ve been to have overflowing board game sections – some of which have barely ever been played with.
Experiences Instead of Toys
There is no doubt that toys are popular gifts for toddlers, but experiences can be just as valuable, if not more so. research has shown that experiences provide a number of benefits for young children, including improved social skills, enhanced language development, and increased creativity.
Experiences can also help to create lasting memories and strengthen family bonds. When choosing an experience for a toddler, it is important to keep their age and interests in mind.
For example, a trip to the children’s museum might be perfect for a three-year-old, while an art class, trip to a national park, or music lessons might be more suitable for an older child. No matter what you choose, the important thing is that it is something that the child will enjoy and remember for years to come.
Experience gifts can be free or very low-cost when necessary. Pack a lunch and take your little one to a park to have a picnic together! See if there’s a dog or two they can pet after they’re done eating and playing. They will most likely have a blast and they won’t care that you didn’t spend $100 on zoo tickets.
- 36 Super Fun Experience Gifts for Kids by Best Holidays of All Time
- Fun Autumn Outdoor Activities for Kids by Thimble & Twig
What toddler toys are actually sustainable?
It’s challenging to definitively state whether one toy or another is sustainable. What are the deciding factors here? What’s sustainable? What are eco-friendly toddler toys? What does that actually mean? I’ll try to define “sustainable toddler toy” to the best of my ability.
Ask yourself these questions when looking for new toys for your kids:
- Are they made from natural materials or renewable resources?
- Do they pollute the Earth when they’re manufactured? What about when they’re disposed of?
- How far away were they manufactured? Are the shipping emissions offset?
- How much water goes into the manufacturing process?
- Are they potentially harmful to your or your children’s health?
- Are they potentially harmful to the people who make them?
- Were the people who made them and packaged them paid fair wages?
Where to get eco-friendly toddler toys
Okay, so we sort of have a definition for what you should be looking for in eco-friendly toddler toys for your kids. But where do you actually find them? Let’s explore the options we have right now.
Shop local if possible
When it comes to shopping for toddler toys, many parents opt for the convenience of buying from big box stores. However, there are several reasons why shopping locally is a better choice for the environment.
- Local stores are more likely to sell products that are made from sustainable materials. This means that they are less likely to emit harmful emissions at any stage of their life cycle. Do a Google search for eco-friendly kid stores or toy shops in your area. Visit them and ask the manager whether they carry eco-friendly toddler toys.
- Shopping locally helps to reduce your carbon footprint. This is a huge deal. Big box stores often ship their products from faraway warehouses, which require a lot of energy to operate. By contrast, local stores typically source their products from nearby suppliers, which requires much less energy.
- Shopping locally supports the development of communities. When you buy from local businesses, you help to create jobs and stimulate the local economy. In contrast, big box stores often damage local economies by driving small businesses out of business.
It’s highly possible that you do not have any local shops near you that sell sustainable toddler toys, though. So if this is you, don’t worry about it and check out the other options.
Where to shop for secondhand kid toys
eBay, Poshmark, Mercari
The real OG of selling your used stuff online, eBay, is still a good place to source secondhand toys. Poshmark and Mercari also allow you to list kid’s toys on their platforms and are reputable and safe places to buy and sell them.
Etsy is more than crafts and mom tees. Way more! I honestly love Etsy at this point in my life because they make it easy to support small businesses and even shop locally. They also offset their carbon emissions, so that is absolutely appreciated.
And Etsy’s got curators of secondhand finds including children’s toys, so add this to your list of places to shop for gently used toys.
ToyCycle is an interesting concept – they buy and sell toys, kids’ clothes, baby gear, and more. They partner with regular parents to become congierges locally and get paid to take in consignment pieces from nearby, photograph the items, ship them out, and make local deliveries.
Choose ‘local delivery’ in the sidebar to check out listings in your area or choose ‘nationwide shipping’ to see what can be shipped over to you.
Facebook marketplace, OfferUp, Craigslist
Shopping secondhand from your local area saves on emissions, so shopping on one of these platforms is not a bad idea. Some people prefer to stay away from Facebook marketplace et. al. because of safety reasons, which is completely understandable. Be careful out there!
Garage sales and flea markets
Probably safer than meeting up one-on-one with someone you’ve never met. Sometimes you can strike secondhand kids’ toy gold at a random garage sale.
Thrift shops usually have overflowing toy sections near me.
Toy share subscriptions
I didn’t know about this before writing this article. I’m just going to put that out there. But I found something cool, you guys.
There are subscription companies that send out eco-friendly toys for babies, toddlers, and kids and they re-use the toys after you send them back in. A toy swap subscription, if you will.
Frankly, we need more companies like this in other industries, as well. Circularity is one of the keys to actual, tangible sustainability. The Telegraph wrote a great article on how this kind of business can help families keep their plastic waste down.
I’m giving this type of toy subscription a thumbs up even though I’m not pro-subscription-box. With these, you clean the toys after a few weeks or months of use and send them back in to be enjoyed by another child.
This actually makes so much sense because kids grow so quickly and they grow out of toys faster than you can imagine. (Unless you have kids at home. Y’all can definitely imagine it.) The subscription price might actually save you money depending on how regularly you buy new toys for your kids.
You also don’t have the burden of selling the toys after you’re done with them, which is a plus.
- Zaisluklubas.lt – This is a Lithuanian company and the first site I stumbled upon that fits this kind of eco-friendly toddler toy subscription model without being wasteful.
- Green Pinata – This is a subscription toy rental service with the option to purchase toys you’d like to keep. They provide a pre-paid shipping label that you can use to send back your box each month – schedule a pickup from USPS to make this even easier on yourself – no post office trip necessary. Plans start at $30/month, include 4 toys each shipment, are aimed at kids 6 months to 5 years old, and only include safe, sustainable, and educational toys. Great business model and good value here in my opinion! They currently ship to the U.S. and only the lower 48.
- Whirli – A UK-based sustainability-focused toy subscription model where you return the toys you rent. They cater to kids newborn to eight years old and their plans start at around 20 pounds per month but you can build up a heftier monthly toybox if you want to. They deliver to any UK address including Northern Ireland and British Isles.
- Toy Box Club – Another UK brand providing sustainable toy swap/toy rental! Starts at 35 pounds per month and stocks toys for ages newborn to five years old. From their website: “For all monthly subscription members delivery and pick up is FREE of charge to ALL postcodes in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland, Scottish Islands & Highlands, Channel Isles, Isle Of Man, Isle Of Wight, and Scilly Isles).” Seems like they are looking to add Scotland and Ireland to their delivery area but haven’t yet at the time of writing this article.
Note: I’m actively looking for more sustainable toy swap and toy rental companies like this, so if you know of any, please comment below or get in contact with me to send over a link!
Where and how to get rid of toys your kids have grown out of
Selling locally or online
Selling your old baby stuff or toddler stuff online or locally is a great idea. Selling your items means that they’re more likely to be re-used. That’s a win for you, a win for whoever buys the toy, and a win for the environment. So, a win-win-win, if you will.
Here’s some places to sell gently used toddler toys:
- ToyCycle – You can sell kids’ clothes, baby gear, and toys with ToyCycle if you’re in the U.S. Curbside pickup is available in San Francisco, CA. as well as Austin, TX. For everywhere else in the U.S., you can request a clean-out box to send in toys and other stuff to sell. They clearly outline what percentage of sales you’ll make and they accept toys and clothing for kids 0-12. Here’s a list of everything they accept!
- eBay, Mercari, Poshmark, Kidizen, etc. – Photograph, list, and ship each item yourself but keep more of your money by selling on these popular online platforms. If you’ve never sold anything online before or you’re kind of new, here’s a good article to get started.
- Locally on Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp etc. – Still a good option to rely on selling and swapping items near your area! Just be careful of common scams and shady people – and let someone trusted know where you’re going to be meeting up for a transaction. And meet people in a well-lit, public space!
Donating to thrift stores or charity shops
Donating is usually not the most eco-friendly option. This is coming from an American perspective, so it might not be entirely relevant to you if you don’t reside in this place, but an overwhelming majority of items donated to American thrift stores (especially chains) end up in landfills.
It’s a sad truth, but donating to the thrift store is usually the easiest way for people to offload their excess items.
As a result of how simple it is to drop off a few bags of stuff at a thrift shop, the shops end up overloaded with so many items that many of them don’t even get a chance to go into the actual store.
For example, look at Goodwill. A lot of their donations are sent straight to Goodwill Outlet stores where people will pick through bins and take what they’re looking for, leaving the rest to be destroyed, shipped off to another country to be destroyed, or sent to landfill.
There is likely a smaller percentage getting trashed at smaller thrift shops, so if you’ve got one of those around you, ask the owner how well their toys sell for them and what they do with the unsold toys because they might have a better system going on.
It’s far more sustainable to sell your kids’ old toys than it is to send them to the thrift store. That’s because people who are willing to pay for an item are more likely to actually use that item. People do pay for items from thrift stores, but you don’t get a guarantee that the item will be sold when you donate toys. If you sell them, the toy is more likely to get played with and have another life out there rather than being dumped.
That being said, if you don’t have the time to list and sell your kids’ toys, dropping them off at a thrift store is a better idea than trashing them! We’re all just doing what we can, I’m just trying to debunk the myth that offloading your stuff onto thrift stores is always sustainable, because there are better options out there.
Toy corporations with takeback programs
It’s estimated that the average child will receive 730 new toys between the ages of 1 and 3. And while it’s wonderful to see those little faces light up on Christmas morning or at a birthday party, it can be daunting to think about where to put all those toys – not to mention what to do with them when your child outgrows them.
Thankfully, more and more toy companies are starting to offer takeback programs for gently used toddler toys. These programs allow you to recycle or donate your child’s old toys, so they can be enjoyed by other toddlers (and free up some much-needed space in your home).
And while you’re at it, you can also pick up a few new toys for your growing child. So next time your toddler’s toy box is overflowing and you’re not feeling up to listing and selling your toys individually, remember that there are companies out there who are happy to take those old toys off your hands.
Here’s some toy takeback programs:
Mattel’s PlayBack program is available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, and the UK. They accept toys from Barbie®, Fisher-Price®, Matchbox® and MEGA™ for recycling and you can request a prepaid shipping label to send in your used toys.
Note: This is a living, growing list and I’m on the hunt for more toy takeback programs to add to it.
No-cost and no-buy toddler toy ideas
When it comes to eco-friendly toddler toys, what works better than free stuff? After all, I’m sure you’ve experienced buying your kid a new toy and they only want to play with the box it came in. 😅
Let’s roll with that! Here are some ideas.
Cardboard box house and other cardboard crafts
A classic. Big boxes and even medium-sized ones can make great toys. Building an entire fort, using the box to craft toys out of, practicing scissor skills, and making art are just some of the things you can do with clean cardboard boxes and pieces.
- 97 Cardboard Crafts and Activities for Kids at HappyToddlerPlaytime
- 50+ Cardboard Box Boredom-Buster Activities for Kids at A Little Pinch of Perfect
- 77 Awesome Cardboard Box Crafts and Activities to Keep Kids Busy at Everyday Mom Squad
- Cardboard Camera Craft at Toddler At Play
- 36+ Cardboard Crafts and Activities for Kids at Crazy Laura
Milk jug crafts
Milk jugs are surprisingly versatile for crafting and upcycling.
- Milk Jug Bird Feeder Craft from Crafty Little Gnome
- 18 Milk Jug Crafts for Home and Garden from Rustic Crafts
- 24 Upcycled Milk Jug Crafts by Meraki Lane
- Owl Milk Jug Craft by Kids Crafts by Three Sisters
- Halloween Milk Jug Ghost Lanterns by Crafty Morning
- 5 Ways to Recycle a Milk Jug in the Garden by Preparedness Mama
Nature crafts for kids
Go outside and do some cute nature crafts!
- Sundial Nature Craft for Toddlers and Preschoolers by All About Momma
- Caterpillar Craft for Toddlers and Preschoolers by All About Momma
- 100 Nature Crafts for Kids by Thimble & Twig
- 101+ Adorable Nature Crafts for Kids by Mother Natured
When it comes to choosing toys for your toddler, there are a lot of different factors to consider. You want to find something that is safe, durable, and will keep them entertained. Additionally, you may want to consider choosing eco-friendly or experience gifts instead of traditional plastic toys. Whatever you choose, make sure it is something that your child will enjoy and remember for years to come.