What to Do with Old Toys: Recycling and Donating

Find alternative ways to breathe new life into old toys, from community toy libraries to sustainable recycling methods.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Recycling and Donating Old Toys
Recycling & Donating Old Toys

If you’re a parent, you likely have several giant bins filled to the brim with toys for your little ones. Organized or not, the relative size of our children’s toy boxes has become incredibly large given their small stature, and the environmental problems are equally ill-proportioned:

  • Mountains of trash: Across the globe, used toys make up 6 percent of the total plastic waste found in landfills.
  • Difficult recycling: Because toys are made from many different materials – plastics 1-7, metal, glass, electronics, and more – they are incredibly difficult to recycle and, in many cases, are not accepted by recycling facilities.

This article covers the following:

  1. Where to donate old toys
  2. What toys are accepted for donation
  3. How to recycle old toys 

Where to donate old toys

Donating used toys to a good cause can be one of the most effective ways to recycle toys. Not only does this prevent the garbage from being sent to landfills, but it also provides a second life for your used toys, which means the materials will go on being functional for many months or years to come. The sky’s the limit when it comes to donating used toys – use your imagination to find a person or charity who could use your secondhand toys:

  • Children’s charities
  • Children’s hospitals
  • Churches
  • Dayhomes and daycare
  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Playgroups
  • Thrift shops 

As an added benefit and if the toys are in good condition, some charities will give you a tax-deductible receipt for your toy donation, so if that’s of interest, be sure to ask for one. Also, make sure to check the IRS recommendations about charitable contributions.

What toys are accepted for donation

Not all toys can be donated to charities for various health and ethical reasons. To ensure that your toys have the best chance of being given away rather than trashed, consider these toy donation instructions:

  • Toys should be nontoxic
  • Ensure that the toys are clean and are not missing parts
  • Broken toys are unlikely to be accepted, especially if they pose a choking hazard
  • Avoid toys with a religious theme unless you’re donating to a faith-based charity
  • Toys that require batteries are not as suitable for donation as they will require the parents of the child to purchase batteries (which may be out of their budget)
  • Toys made from things like fabric, cardboard, paper, and other absorbable materials are often rejected as they are difficult to clean and disinfect
  • Usually charities will not accept gifts of food or candy.

How to recycle old toys

In addition to donating used toys, there are many ways you can recycle toys so that they don’t end up in the landfill:

  • Contribute to a toy library: Some communities have toy libraries that are like book libraries – you can check toys in and out so that your child is never bored with their personal stash. Each toy library is unique to the local community, so the best way to find one in your area is to do a search online for your city/town name + “toy library.” 
  • Sell or trade: Sometimes a toy is too valuable to simply give away, in which case you should try to sell your used toys. You can either sell toys at your own garage or yard sale or check out our recycling guidelines.
  • Recycling centers: Some communities have set up recycling programs for large plastic toys and metal toys as well, though you will need to call ahead to determine your recycling center’s toy recycling policy.
  • Deconstruction: If the recycling center will not take your toys as is, sometimes you can dismantle them yourself to recycle the various components, such as paper, cardboard, metal, and plastic which can then be put with other recyclables of the same kind. Cardboard and paper components can also be composted.