boy toddler playing with plastic toy car

As kids grow older, they inevitably grow out of their old toys. As a parent, you may be left wondering what to do with the toys they no longer play with. Responsible toy disposal and recycling are challenging issues, but this article should help bring some clarity.

If the toy is broken or damaged beyond reuse, recycling is the next best thing. To recycle children’s toys, you’ll most likely need to break them apart into separate materials. While metal and electronics components can be easier to recycle, toy pieces made of plastic and wood may be more difficult.

Recycling Plastic Toys

Recycling plastic toys is difficult. You are unlikely to find municipal programs that accept them. The main problem is identifying what type(s) of plastic the toys are made from. If the plastic pieces have recycling codes stamped into them, you can use the Earth911 Recycling Search and search by the plastic code to identify local recyclers of that type of plastic. But you’ll need to call the recyclers to find out if they accept toy pieces. Recyclers often accept only certain shapes of each plastic type.

As far as recycling programs specifically for toys, it’s a good idea to check with the toy manufacturer to find out if they offer a recycling program for their products. If they don’t, you can still let them know that, as a consumer of their products, you expect them to offer a responsible disposal option.

The only other recycling program you’re likely to find is run by TerraCycle. TerraCycle runs numerous recycling programs for hard to recycle items. Consumers purchase boxes for recycling a particular category of item, fill up the box and send it back. TerraCycle takes care of the recycling process.

TerraCycle runs a recycling program for toys. According to their website, these are the toys they accept:

Toys or toy pieces, cards, dice, game boards, packaging from board games, books with sound, handheld electronic games and players, remote control vehicles, electronic stuffed animals, baby toys, building sets, stuffed animals, puzzle pieces, game pieces, and action figures.

This TerraCycle program is a fantastic option, but costly. You may want to consider getting together with a few like-minded parents who also have toys to recycle so you can share the cost of a larger box.

Recycling Metal Toys

All-metal toys, or the metal components of toys, are probably the easiest to recycle. Most scrap yards will accept and recycle a wide variety of metal items. Just be sure to give them a call ahead of time to make sure. In most cases, you won’t need to know exactly what type of metal the items are; they’ll figure that out at the scrap yard. Check out Earth911’s listings for scrap metal recycling centers near you.

Recycling Electronic Toys

Most electronic toys are a combination of metal and plastic, so these can be a bit tricky. Try to separate the metal, plastic, and electronic components (circuit board and cables) of the toy so you can dispose of them separately. For the electronic components, you can try calling a local electronics recycler to see if they’ll take them.

You can use Earth911 Recycling Search to find electronics recyclers in your area. Try searching for electronics, desktop computers, or cables at your zip code. If the toy includes a lithium-ion battery or another type of battery, you can also search the directory for a facility in your area that accepts those items, too.

old wooden rocking horse
Because of their durability, wooden toys can often be cleaned up and passed on to a new owner. Photo: _Alicja_, Pixabay

Recycling Wooden Toys

Fortunately, given the durability of most wooden toys, you should be able to give away wooden toys for someone else to use. In the rare case that the toy is completely beyond reuse, your disposal options depend on what the toy is treated with.

If the toy has an all-natural wood stain, you may be able to compost it in a commercial facility (but check with your city if they’ll accept it). If it has been painted, you’ll have to dispose of it in the garbage, as facilities can’t accept it for composting.

Give Away or Resell

If the toys you’re looking to dispose of still have life left, it’s always a better option to give them away to someone else who can use them. Nearly every thrift store and donation center will take toys, but if you’re not sure, head over to the Earth911 Recycling Search and take a look (the recycling search isn’t just for recycling options; reuse is a huge part of it as well). Also, consider asking local shelters or churches to see if they take toys that are in good condition.

You can also sell the toys at garage sales, on Facebook garage sale groups, and apps like Letgo. Some toys, like Legos, Hot Wheels, and Barbies actually hold their value quite well. But be honest about the condition of the toys, so people know what they’re getting.

By Brian Brassaw

Brian formerly managed the Earth911 Recycling Search and shared green living tips and tricks on Earth911’s Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter accounts. Brian also shares DIY projects on Little Pilots Lounge.