With the push for technology integration in just about every aspect of our daily lives, some children’s toys are more dangerous than parents probably realized. The most dangerous toys are those that require batteries or require electricity to run. When toys like singing dolls and remote controlled cars eventually stop dancing and racing around, it can be easy for them to be shoved in the back of a closet but eventually they will hit the waste stream and that’s when the trouble happens.
But all of those tiny circuits and toxic batteries built into the toys end up in piles of e-waste alongside defunct computers and printers, ancient iPhones and tossed TVs. Once discarded toys hit the recycling stream, they can cause fires, emit dangerous fumes and contribute to climate change — all of which is extremely dangerous for our health and environment.
Researchers have yet to get an estimate on just how much toys contribute to the e-waste stream. But looking at the overflowing toy bins across the country, we know the toy industry is booming, and youth electronics is by far the fastest growing toy category. In 2018 thus far, the U.S. toy industry has bumped its annual sales by $264 million to $11.6 billion, according to global information company The NPD Group.
And as innovations in technology continue, the piles of tired toys will only continue to grow larger year after year – especially in the wake of Black Friday and Christmas. By the end of this year, 49.8 million metric tons of e-waste will be produced globally. By 2020, households in the U.S. alone will generate approximately 800 million used electrical and electronic gadgets — of which only an estimated 20 percent will be recycled.
When toys and electronics are recycled they are physically destroyed, shredded, and segregated into piles of different metals, plastics, and glass. “It’s modern mining, to an extent, where they’re trying to mine the most valuable aspects of the product, and then pass the rest of the product on to the next guy to sell,” says Brett Stevens, Global VP of Material Sales & Procurement at TerraCycle.
However a lot of toys are made with a collection of materials that are not easily recycled. For example, take Pomsie, a wearable electronic pet toy that is predicted to be a Christmas favorite. The toy comes with a comb for its pink-colored hair, has an automated moving tail, eyes that light up and electronic sensors. Pomsie contains so many different components that the breakdown into the different categories becomes a unbelievable cost.
But trashing these toys is not an option either since battery-operated toys tossed straight into the trash come with their own harmful baggage. Lithium ion batteries are less stable than old lead batteries, and can burst into flames if they’re bent or punctured. That’s especially likely at a landfill facility where bulldozers and loaders are pushing the stuff around, and can easily drive over a battery and spark an instant fire, or sometimes, smolder for weeks.
It can be easy to hang on to toys, especially when they have sentimental value. Unlike any other type of waste, we hoard toys the most. And while they may not be doing any damage at the moment, they will someday when they hit the waste stream.