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Wooden toys: Building a sustainable future in play

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By Richard O’Neill

· 3 min read

In the bustling world of children's toys, a quiet yet impactful comeback is happening: the resurgence of wooden toys. Once overshadowed by the shiny allure of plastic, wooden toys are now reclaiming their place in playrooms worldwide. This resurgence isn't merely a nostalgic trend but a conscious choice driven by the urgent need for sustainability in every aspect of our lives.

Building blocks have been a staple in childhood play for generations, often becoming cherished family heirlooms passed down through the years. Traditionally crafted from wood, these blocks offered durability, safety, and endless opportunities for imaginative play. However, the advent of plastic injection molding led the toy industry towards cheaper, mass-produced plastic alternatives.

Plastic toys flooded the market, boasting vibrant colours and intricate designs. Yet, beneath their superficial appeal lies a concerning truth. Plastic toys contribute significantly to environmental degradation and pose health risks to children. With a staggering 90% of toys on the market made of plastic, the resulting plastic waste generation and potential exposure to harmful chemicals cannot be ignored.

The environmental impact of plastic toys cannot be overstated. From production to disposal, plastic toys leave a substantial ecological footprint, contributing to plastic pollution in landfills and oceans, thus endangering marine life and human health. In stark contrast, wooden toys offer a sustainable solution.

In the UK alone, millions of tonnes of waste wood are generated annually, presenting an opportunity for recycling and repurposing. Wooden toys, crafted from renewable resources, are biodegradable and contribute less to environmental pollution.

Richard O'Neill, an educator, children’s author, and sixth-generation toymaker understands these implications all too well. His wooden toys, including the Tree Buddies, made from sustainably grown willow and other tree trimmings, and the Blockies, crafted from discarded pallet blocks, offer a sustainable alternative to conventional plastic toys. They resonate with environmentally conscious teachers, parents, and caregivers, aiming to minimise environmental impact while maximizing educational value.

Wooden toys offer a myriad of advantages that set them apart from their plastic counterparts: They are durable and biodegradable, have huge educational value, encourage and inspire imagination and creativity, are long-lasting, support local makers, and offer respite from handheld electronic devices.

In a landscape dominated by mass-produced plastic toys, the resurgence of wooden toys offers a refreshing alternative. Beyond their nostalgic appeal, wooden toys embody sustainability, durability, and safety. By choosing wooden toys, consumers provide children with enriching play experiences and contribute to a more sustainable future for generations to come. As we navigate the complexities of toy consumption, let us remember the timeless allure and enduring legacy of wooden toys—the building blocks to sustainability.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Richard O’Neill is a storyteller, author and circularity consultant from the Nomadic tradition.

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