Spring cleaning: Places to recycle toys

Is your playroom overflowing?

Kids are quite possibly some of the least eco-friendly creatures on the planet. Especially in those first two years when they are growing and changing almost daily. It seems like as soon as you get them a new toy for a birthday or holiday, they have outgrown it or there is another birthday or holiday and they get even more. Used, broken and outgrown toys seem to pile up like dirty tissues in allergy season. What are you to do with all that overflow? Here are several ways you can reduce your toy debris in an eco-friendly way.




It may not seem like it but there are actually several ways you can recycle toys. The most obvious is to break it down to it’s pieces and check with each piece.


For example, to recycle a baby playmat:


– The fabric base can be recycled with textiles and so can small stuffed animals


– The music box can be pulled out and recycled with small electronics


Here are some other ideas:


During April, Tom’s of Maine will be working with TerraCycle on a new toy recycling program. Simply go to www.tomsofmaine.com/lesswaste and register for a free shipping label, then start purging! Fill a box with up to 10 pounds of broken or unused toys and attach the label. Drop it off and UPS, and Tom’s of Main and TerraCycle will take care of the rest.


Do you have old instruments? A hobby that didn’t pan out or an interest that died doesn’t have to sit and rust in your closet. The Ravinia District and Ravinia Festival in Highland Park are recycling those instruments through June 19 for their *Teach*Play* education program. The program serves more than 75,000 people, ensuring that music education remain accessible. Instruments collected at the festival and the 17 businesses in the district will be refurbished and used for a student orchestra program in Waukegan.


Chicago Textile Recycling will recycle and process clean and dry textiles including stuffed animals, plush toys, blankets and quilts. Items can be dropped off at their Hillside Facility (250 N. Mannheim Rd.) any time. Chicago Textile Recycling has also partnered with SWALCO in Lake County and maintains more than 20 drop-off locations throughout the county, see the SWALCO website to find your location.




Be honest, most of the toys we have can probably be re-used. It’s far more common that our children outgrow or lose interest than that they all out break or use up a toy. Options for toys (except stuffed animals) abound:


Children’s resale shops: I have actually made money on my kids outgrown toys! Make sure they are clean, working (include batteries) and have all the parts.


Charities that operate thrift stores: They will take your toys and sell them to put the money back into their programs. Examples are Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul, Lambs Farm and many hospital and shelter systems, such as Cornerstone Community Outreach, also operate store.


United Way of Lake County is always looking for gently-used toys and books, particularly educational in nature, for their low income families.


Boys and Girls Clubs: Find your local club and check out their wish list. Many are looking for items such as electronic toys, headphones, basketballs, LEGOs and even bean bags chairs!


Find someone who needs exactly what you have. Several organizations operate online wish lists where you can input what you have to give and it will match you with groups and charities looking for it. Try Find Help Lake County or Zealous Good.


Your local preschool, church, or library: Many times toys can be used in play areas and classrooms. Be sure to ask first and don’t just drop off.


Toy Box Connection in Orland Park collects used toys and stuffed animals (that have not been exposed to animals or smoke) and distributes them to charities in the area.


What to do about stuffed animals?


For many parents the biggest toy pile up is stuffed animals. Who doesn’t have a basket, toy chest or child’s bed piled high with stuffed animals that seem to multiply overnight? Some of the above mentioned thrift stores will take them (ask in advance of donating or they get thrown out) and other ideas are:


ChildLink, which offers services for children in foster care across the state. Need vary by location and time of year so see their website for current needs.


Zacharius Center will take *new* teddy bears to use in their facilities. Contact them to set up donations.


Local Police and Fire Departments sometimes keep stuffed animals on hand for children in accidents or crisis. Contact your local station and see if they have a need.


Local animal shelters


SAFE – If you are willing to mail your stuffed animals, SAFE can help you find locations across the U.S. including for the military overseas.


Kids Corner provides a safe and enjoyable waiting area for children in the Lake County Courthouse. They are always accepting books (every child takes one when they leave) and they collect stuffed animals around the holidays.

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