Lifetime Gift or Landfill Gift?

Lifetime Gift or Landfill Gift?

by Rita Goldner

Grandkids reading

I’m telling a holiday gift-giving story in reverse. The ending is at the city dump. According to research (references listed below) approximately 1 percent of plastic toys remain in use six months after giving., because they either break quickly or fall from popularity. The toy business had $20.36 billion in sales last year. Plastic toys comprise 90 percent of this amount, and unfortunately they usually cannot be recycled because they contain other materials, like metal.

Let’s flash back to the gift-opening moment, which occurs with a burst of excitement. The thrill soon fades, accompanied by an “Is that all?” response and fights with siblings over the favorite new toys. You’re left with roomful of plastic packaging material headed for the landfill, to be followed by the toys themselves a mere six months later.

Rewind further to the, frenzied, manic running around we did to accumulate all this stuff. We searched multiple stores, found the last one left of a popular toy, and then stood in endless lines at checkout. Buying online is more convenient, but now we’ve added to our guilt list because of all the trees destroyed to make the shipping boxes.

Time travelling a few weeks further back, we have our kids making wish lists and writing letters to Santa. Even on shopping trips unrelated to gifts, our kids are bombarded with colorful toy displays, and are quick to grab and point out the ones they want.

Some of this stuff is toxic on two levels. Besides the fact that it’s headed for the landfill, it’s also giving our kids an unhealthy message that consuming is somehow related to prosperity and happiness. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes 30 percent of its resources and creates 30 percent of its waste.

There is a solution to this downward spiral; it just requires a little creativity. How about buying kids gifts that are adventures, not more toys? A trip to the zoo or a children’s museum, lessons in something they enjoy, like art, a musical instrument, or horseback riding, or even a family camping trip would create memories that would last a while. Books might be something they could keep in their collection for a lifetime.

I had a surprisingly positive experience when planning for the staged photo shoot of my grandkids, seen above. I took some of them to my library’s used book sale, and gave them a stack of post-it notes, each one with a cousin’s name. I asked them to rummage through the children’s section and find a book they thought each cousin would like, and stick the note on the front. I thought they might consider it a chore, but they spread the books out on the rug, and got down on hands and knees or sat cross-legged. They thumbed through several, and discussed their choices.

Amazingly, they seemed to have a pretty good handle on the other cousins’ reading levels and interests. I purchased all the books (very inexpensively), and when all the cousins were together for Thanksgiving, I bribed them each with a gift of a book if they would sit still for a photo shoot and make sure their faces didn’t show. Again, I expected complaints, but they had fun and really liked the books.

As you see in the picture, several of them insisted on keeping the post-it notes on the fronts of their books. They were so cooperative that I was able to take a video for my holiday books-for-gifts video on my YouTube channel. My point is: giving a kid a book instead of a toy might start a new trend, a new collection, and a new passion. It could be fun, and you’ll be saving the planet!

Comments welcome.

Rita signature

Story Research Resources:

“Your Kids’ Toys Are Killing the Planet” – Huffington Post

Essay by George Monbiot, published in The Guardian 11th December 2012

Film by Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

Rita Goldner
is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water CycleThe Flying Artist, and Rose ColoredTo view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.

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3 Responses to Lifetime Gift or Landfill Gift?

  1. Laura Orsini says:

    They also comprise 90 percent:

    Comprise: make up; constitute.
    “this single breed comprises 50 percent of the Swiss cattle population”
    synonyms: make up, constitute, form, compose; account for
    “this breed comprises half the herd”


  2. marym500 says:

    Is it that holiday gift-giving time ALREADY?! I’m never prepared. I loved your “buy an adventure” idea—giving the gift of a trip or outing. Also, the post-it-notes and library book sale idea encourages not only reading, but also thoughtfulness for cousins (or friends). Very helpful post!


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