Where do your kids’ toys go to die? Children, consumerism, toys and trash

A few weeks ago I overheard a woman say (online) that she cleaned her basement and subsequently “threw out 10 bags of broken, crap toys!” The comments that followed applauded her efforts. I’m not sure if they were happy that she cleaned the basement or that she discarded numerous toys, but I couldn’t help but feel saddened that so many “broken, crap toys” were on their way to the landfill.

I can’t say I’ve never thrown out a broken toy myself, but generally speaking I try to make an effort to acquire toys that are the antithesis of “crap” and, thus will stand the test of time and, once they’ve lived out their time with us, can be given away to someone else (or saved for my kid’s kids…someday). Of course some less than stellar toys inevitably make their way into our house, but 10 bags of junked toys seems like a lot to me.

It had me wondering, is this scenario the norm or the exception? What do you think?

According to Earth911, “Recent studies show nearly every household purchases at least one toy a year (often more), and toy sales in the U.S. in 2007 totaled to $20.5 billion.” How many of those toys make their way into the landfills?

I have to admit that I feel guilty every time I throw a broken anything into the trash. I know that throwing something away doesn’t really make it go away. There is no “away.” It just means that it’s going to sit in a landfill or in an ocean somewhere for years and years and years. That bothers me, which is why I try to avoid it. (If you haven’t yet watch The Story of Stuff, I highly recommend it.) This is also why this weekend I was trying to Freecycle a bunch of stuff that we’re no longer using.

I wrote a bit about my process for getting rid of stuff in the post “Decluttering your house, the green way.”

Even if I know the garbage can is my last option for stuff, I still feel bad about throwing it out. I hate to think about it ending up in a landfill and staying there forever, but then I also have to be realistic and not completely beat myself up over it. It’s a good reminder to make wise choices when buying things and think:

* Do I really need this?
* Is it good enough quality that it will last for years or will it break after a year and have to be replaced?
* Should I save my money for a little while longer and buy a better quality item that will last me longer?
* What will I do with it when I no longer need it (or when it breaks)?

Of course this is a bit harder when you have kids (and toys) and it’s not always practical to go through this list every time you buy something, but it’s a good practice to get into and will help to avoid unnecessary purchases in the future. It can also help you avoid buying cheap, plastic toys that might as well go directly from the assembly line to the landfill for as long as they are usable. But don’t get me started about those. ;oP

Good toys vs. Junk toys

Jennifer Lance wrote Green Family Values: No More Junk Toys! and offers some tips on how to tell a good toy from a junk toy:

How can you tell a junk toy from a good toy? Field naturalist Alicia Daniel offers the following list of questions to ask when selecting toys:

  1. Will this toy eventually turn into dirt-i.e., could I compost it? Stones, snowmen, driftwood, and daisies-they will be gone, and we will be gone, and life goes on.
  2. Do I know who made this toy? This question leads us to search for the hidden folk artist in each of us.
  3. Is this toy beautiful? Have human hands bestowed an awkward grace, a uniqueness lacking in toys cranked out effortlessly by machine?
  4. Will this toy capture a child’s imagination?

So what do you do with the old toys?

Earth911 has some tips for recycling toys including:

  • passing them on to other family members
  • donating them
  • repairing broken toys
  • or selling them.

They also list the benefits of recycling toys.

Think before you buy

I think the best advice though is to think before you buy. I know not every single toy purchase can be a thoughtful/practical one, but if you can change that so the percentage of thoughtful purchases is increased by 25%, 50%, 75% or more, think of how much crap that will keep out of the landfills. Also, you might want to consider the carbon footprint and the safety of the toy. How far did it have to travel to get to your toy store? If you live in the United States, could you buy an American-made alternative instead? There have been a lot of recalls of toys in the past several years. When you buy well-made, quality toys, you reduce the risk of a recall.

Children and consumerism

Mrs. Green from My Zero Waste in her post A Plastic Frisbee for the Landfill wrote:

I have to say, this is something that concerns me about 21st century life – the massive volume of ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ toys that our children are growing up with. They last a few days at best and then become ‘rubbish’. Our children are bought up to look for the next fix and move on to the next thing, like good little consumers. I wonder how we can ever solve the landfill issue until we pull back from so much mindless consumerism. We try and stay away from it as much as we can, but we can’t live in a vacuum or turn our child into the village freak.

I agree. I don’t want my children to be turned into mindless consumers, which is why I support the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, but I also realize they cannot live in a vacuum and I don’t want them to be ostracized by their peers.

So, what’s the solution?

Think before you buy, have a plan in mind for what to do with a toy when your child is done with it, and remember: everything in moderation.

One of my favorite Native American proverbs is, “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” Yes, a cheap plastic toy might make your child happy for a few minutes or weeks, but how happy will it make them in 20 years when their generation is responsible for cleaning up the mess that resulted from all of those cheap plastic toys?

Related links:
Second Chance Toys: Rescuing and Recycling Plastic Toys for Needy Children
Tips for Choosing Eco-friendly Toys
Simple toys are better for children
Toys from Trash

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Got breast milk to spare? Denver milk bank is in desperate need.

The freezers are nearly empty at a Denver milk bank, which is experiencing its lowest supply ever in the bank’s 25-year history. The Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital is one of only 10 milk banks in the country that collects breast milk from mothers across the country and delivers it to sick and premature babies. The shortage has been due in part to a rough flu season and an increased need from hospitals and parents seeking breast milk.

If you are wondering in this day and age, with formula readily available, why milk banks are so important, there’s information in this Breastfeeding.com article, Banking on Breast milk. The majority of milk from the milk banks goes to babies who are sick or need milk because of medical conditions such as formula intolerance or feeding issues related to prematurity. Unlike formula, breast milk contains immunologic properties to help fight infection and illness.

Milk banks exist because many babies will not thrive without human milk. Infants with failure to thrive (FTT), formula intolerance, allergies and certain other medical conditions may require real human milk for health and even for survival.

A typical candidate for donor breast milk might be a formula-fed infant that exhibits prolonged episodes of inconsolable crying, ongoing vomiting and classic allergy signs such as purple or black circles under the eyes, pallor, skin inflammation, lethargy and frequent or bloody stools. Another typical candidate might be a premature infant whose mother cannot (or cannot yet) supply breast milk.

All donors to Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) member milk banks undergo a screening process that begins with a short phone interview. Donor mothers are women who are currently lactating and have surplus milk. Donor mothers must be:

  • In good general health
  • Willing to undergo a blood test (at the milk bank’s expense)
  • Not regularly using medication or herbal supplements (with the exception of progestin-only birth control pills or injections, Synthroid, insulin, pre-natal vitamins; for other exceptions, please contact a milk bank for more information)
  • Willing to donate at least 100 ounces of milk; some banks have a higher minimum

The Denver milk bank welcomes donors both local and out of state
For donating mothers who don’t live near Denver, the milk bank ships supplies and a box with dry ice to mail the milk. Mothers are not paid for donating. Also, the HMBANA milk banks will often loan pumps to donor moms if they don’t have one of their own.

I donated milk to the Denver milk bank when my son Julian was a baby and had previously donated to a local mom directly when Ava was a baby. I’ve been blessed with a plentiful supply and was happy to do what I could to help others. Although I wasn’t able to collect as much as I had hoped, it all adds up.

Brandie also pumped her milk for the Iowa milk bank. She describes the process she went through when she donated nearly 400 oz.(!!) to the milk bank in 2003. As she packed up the cooler to mail her milk in, she couldn’t help but get emotional.

I was sending a piece of myself off in that cooler. Lots of hours of pumping (or at least what felt like lots of hours). I cried. As silly as that sounds, I did. I thought about how that milk might go to feed another baby and help another family – who for whatever reasons needed breast milk for their baby and couldn’t provide it themselves. I thought about how when so many around me thought breastfeeding your own baby was gross, disgusting, something only to be done behind closed doors where no one would have to actually see it, there were people out there who so firmly believed in it that they would use my milk to feed their babies.

Jodi, Milk Donor Mama, and Cate Nelson have all been milk donors too.

Emily from Et Cetera recently found herself with a surplus of pumped milk. As her freezer stash grew, she began to get concerned that it would expire before it was consumed. That’s when she learned about breast milk banking. She’s signed up to be a donor and encourages others to as well. “Why let your extra breast milk go to waste? Share it with a baby who desperately needs it. And even if you can’t donate, you can get involved. The more people know about milk banks, the more babies will thrive.”

A doctor’s prescription is required to receive breast milk from a HMBANA milk bank.

Deanne Walker of Colorado Springs received donor milk from Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital for her twin boys who were born 10 weeks premature. In addition to the babies being born early, Deanne had several infections which dramatically affected her milk supply. I spoke with Deanne via email where she pointed out the importance of breast milk for preemie babies.

When babies are born prematurely the mother’s milk is different – it’s called super preemie milk loaded with even more protein, antibodies and dense nutrition than regular breast milk. Preemies need the extra nutrition because their digestive tracts are not fully developed, they are so small and need to grow more rapidly, and also because they are so much more prone to infections in those early weeks. Formula just cannot deliver the nutrition and antibodies provided by nature.

Deanne is thankful for the donor milk her now thriving 3 1/2 year old sons received until her supply was established enough to provide full feedings for them, but wishes it was covered by her insurance like formula was. (Note: Medical insurance sometimes covers the cost of donor milk when there is a demonstrated medical need for the milk on the part of the infant.) She and her husband had to cash in their retirement account to pay for the milk. The cost of breast milk from the Denver milk bank is currently $3.50 per ounce (which covers the donor screening, processing of the milk, etc.), which adds up very quickly especially when feeding more than one baby.

Please see the information below if you have breast milk to spare and would like to help babies in need. Or if you are looking for a worthy place for your tax-deductible donation, please consider making a donation to a milk bank. The HMBANA milk banks are non-profit organizations and depend on community and private donations to keep the doors open.

Information on donating or receiving breast milk:

Edited on 1/26/10 to add:
This morning the United States Breastfeeding Committee released a statement and urgent call for human breast milk for premature infants in Haiti. The first shipment is getting ready to go out to the U.S. Navy ship Comfort. You can read the entire statement and find out how you can donate by reading Give Them Roots blog about it: URGENT: Milk Donations for Haiti Infants. Thank you!

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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