Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Toy Recycling Gets a Boost from Tom's of Maine and TerraCycle

By Leon Kaye

It's pretty obvious what to do with cans, glass containers and even plastic bottles once they're empty. But for other products, such as plastic toys, recycling can pose a tricky question. After all, the types of plastics that are accepted into waste management streams vary by municipality.

But natural personal care company Tom’s of Maine, in a partnership with TerraCycle, says it has a solution.

As part of the brand's Less Waste Challenge, consumers can collect and box broken or unwanted toys and send them to TerraCycle. The process is simple. Customers click a link to print a free shipping label, and then send the goods to TerraCycle. Both companies infer that any toys will be accepted, including plush toys such as stuffed animals.

In the meantime, TerraCycle is trying to boost the recycling of toys, including electronic gadgets, by selling boxes that are designed to encourage and scale their recycling. Neither company has disclosed how the toys they collect will be recycled or upcycled.

Tom’s of Maine has promoted the recycling of toys before. Two years ago, the company tried to raise awareness of the fact that billions of toys are purchased annually, and cited statistics suggesting that over half of them are tossed away when no longer wanted. The company also partnered with TerraCycle on the initiative, which similarly allowed customers to mail in their old toys for recycling.

There is one caveat: Both companies suggest that customers not ship the box until at least 10 pounds of toys are tucked inside. But unlike other recycling campaigns -- such as TerraCycle's recent partnership with Garnier, which also called for a high volume of waste in one package -- accumulating 10 pounds of toys should not be too steep of a challenge for the typical household.

As the global economy recovers, the sales of toys have surged. One trade association reported that the American toy industry alone surpassed over $20 billion in sales last year. But the wide use of plastics in these toys, many of which have a short life, highlights concerns that far too many of them end up in municipal dumps. Reports from publications including the Guardian, which suggest that recycled toxic electronic waste has come back as children’s toys, further indicate that the industry can do far more to become more responsible and sustainable.

This toy challenge is part of a Tom’s of Maine initiative to educate consumers about the amount of waste their households send to landfill. Last year, the company accelerated its waste diversion awareness efforts by urging customers to reduce the amount of waste tey throw away by one pound a week. The maker of natural toothpaste and deodorant says such behavior changes have prevented the disposal of over 226,000 pounds – or promises from approximately 4,300 customers.

Image credit: Diane Bales/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye