If you have a kiddo in your life, you know how fun it is to give them a new toy or game and watch their eyes light up. But well-meaning adults often give gifts in a way that is needlessly wasteful.
Parents are well-acquainted with just how quickly plastic trinkets make their way from our homes to the “donate” bin. Toys often enter our lives via birthday loot bags, grandparents, dentist and doctor offices or school prizes. Unfortunately, these toys are often enjoyed by kids for a fleeting moment and then tossed aside. And donating them doesn’t mean they’re gone—they go from the aisle at the dollar store to the landfill in record speed. There must be a better way, right?
Educator and founder of Tiny Toy Co. Rebecca Saha says yes. She’s not suggesting we never buy toys—just buy them secondhand, and use them more thoughtfully. She has made a home for discarded tiny toys, where she repackages them as valuable educational supplies. “Toys are fun!” She says. “Kids and toys will always go together, and we get great feedback from families about how good it feels to put ‘new to you’ toys in kids’ hands knowing that they’re teacher-selected, safe for reuse, and without additional impact on the environment.”
View this post on Instagram
While the ideal scenario would be that we never purchase new trinkets in the first place, Saha sees plenty of value in discarded toys when others think their life cycle is complete. And she’s helping parents see the value too. Where we see one stray Jenga block, she imagines the whole game—and then painstakingly collects individual blocks until she has a full set to sell (thanks BTW, because those ones made it to my home). Where we see a bunch of stray toys that need to get out of our house NOW, she sees a rhyming game to help with early literacy (bouncy ball and tiny doll, anyone?)
This Earth Day (and every day) let’s all take a little inspiration from Saha and learn how to thoughtfully donate our unwanted toys, find creative ways to upcycle and always look to secondhand first when shopping. Here are her thoughts on upcycling, the joy of toys and how we can help the earth, in big (and tiny) ways.
On thoughtful donation of unwanted items
“Being mindful about what we bring into our homes, and how things leave our homes is hard work!” says Saha. “It’s so much easier to order cheap, new things sent to our front door from the other side of the globe for next to nothing, and to toss them when we’re done.”
But that comes with some major downsides, and at a huge cost to our earth.
Luckily, things are starting to change. “We’re starting to get the message that someone, somewhere is paying the costs if we aren’t,” says Saha. “Just like putting random items in the blue bin doesn’t make them recyclable, donating things doesn’t mean they won’t hit the landfill.” Some examples: ”Toys that are rusted, mildewed, broken, or literally snapped in two.”
On saving the misfit toys
“Where Tiny Toy Co. can meet a need is in the collection of bits and pieces that have lost their sets, and the creative creation of new activities, using tiny toys and game pieces,” says Saha.
The two keys to what she does: Sorting, and inventing. “By reuniting disparate pieces, new sets can be created,” says Saha. “A toy wheel and a toy seal might launch a rhyming sets kit,” she says. “A miniature toy spatula and a dollhouse pancake might spark a game making conceptual pair matches.”
The key to success? A creative outlook. “The magic comes from starting with what’s in our bins, and being open-minded.”
View this post on Instagram
On going out of business
“Tiny Toy Co. is, I’m quite sure, the only business that wishes we’d go out of business,” says Saha. “As we pursue our twin aims of repurposing toy waste and educating young people and their families about reducing toy waste, we’re really plotting our own obsolescence, in a way.”
On empowering the next generation
“As a kindergarten teacher and parent, it goes without saying that kids are my greatest motivation to save the planet from the wasteful, polluting path we are on as a culture,” says Saha. But it gives her great hope to teach them and guide them towards a brighter future. “Empowering the next generation to see the problems they face, and…to think of solutions that are within their own young grasp – that’s my motivator.”
On shopping secondhand (and local)
“I am absolutely a “secondhand first” shopper for myself and my family,” says Saha. “From thrift stores like Value Village to consignment stores, I believe in taking care of what I already have, and buying what I need secondhand.”
As for new items, Saha chooses high-quality products that will last a lifetime. “Supporting local businesses who make responsible, conscious product choices is a must for me,” says Saha. “For high-quality new kids’ stuff I love Modern Rascals (online) and the Healthy Moms Market (online and on Dundas St. W. in the Junction.) Some of my favourite secondhand spots to shop for kids’ items in Toronto include Little Ones Closet (online and at Danforth & Woodbine) and Ode to Toy (online), as well as encouraging people to make their own neighbourhood swaps, yard sales, and hand-me-down connections.”
On making better choices—and satisfying the urge to shop
“Sometimes, making a better choice looks like choosing the book over the toy at the drive-thru restaurant,” says Saha. “Sometimes it means finding other ways to scratch that consumerist ‘shopping itch,’ like an all-you-can-carry visit to the public library!” (We fully endorse this!)
“Sometimes, it looks like helping our kids to maintain interest in what they already have at home, through toy storage and rotation,” explains Saha. Some ways to do that: “Set fewer toys and games out at a time, leave space between each toy on the shelf and teach your child to put toys away assembled, so they are ready for next time.” The result: Magic. “Your child’s ability to play independently will rise, and their interest in what they’ve got will too,” she says.
“Absolutely the biggest struggle I face here at Tiny Toy Co. is the time and labour it takes to sort through the bags and boxes of donated toy debris,” says Saha. “Going from trash to treasure is a magical process, and I invite teachers, families, and community group leaders to consider getting their groups involved in this meaningful labour of love for the planet. Saha runs educational workshops with this goal in mind. “I’m looking forward to a summer filled with young helpers and their grownups.”
View this post on Instagram
On favourite toys
“I am a sucker for character toys. In our home we have toy figurines of Albert Einstein, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Charles Darwin, and the entire Sesame Street crew on display in different ways as pop art. I also love our collection of trash and recycling-themed toys, which includes Oscar the Grouch, Paw Patrol’s Rocky and his recycling truck, and an adorable vintage Sesame Street garbage truck from my own childhood.”
On what to buy at Tiny Toy Co.
“Our most successful products are absolutely the Tiny Toy Co. upcycled loot bags and busy boxes. Every upcycled loot bag we fill contains a teacher-designed activity card for things to do with the toys you already own, and is tagged with a mission statement spreading the word that toys don’t need to land in the trash. Even better, when you give one of our loot bags to a guest or friend, you share the message about toy waste reduction and spread the movement.”