20 days in, plus toys

June 20, 2011|Posted in: Uncategorized

Isn’t that still life pretty? It’s the Teflon pots and pans, plus plastic utensils, that I’m giving away. (The picnic basket, wire chicken and canning kettle are just keeping them company for a few days.) I spent part of Saturday reseasoning some cast iron that I had used, then let sit, and then someone soaked it in water and it rusted horribly. Not pretty at all. Now I have three cast iron skillets of different sizes sitting in my oven with a light coat of olive oil, awaiting the next cooking opportunity. I got all three of them from Freecycle, by the way. Which means they cost me $0:  my favorite price.

I’ve been thinking about long-term changes and what that means to my family. As it happens, we are days away from closing escrow on a house up in the Russian River Valley, deep in the heart of wine country. It’s a small house (650 square feet!), with its own cesspool, right on a creek that leads to the river, which flows right to Jenner and the Pacific Ocean. It’s on a private road, which means no garbage service. We have to be very careful what flows out of the house and out into the yard (watershed). We need to make it a “green” house — as off-grid and zero-waste as possible. Taking the Plastic Purge here, in our rented city digs, is one way for us to get ready to live plastic- and toxin-free, when we eventually move up north (weekends and summers, until the Boy graduates, and then permanent residence).

Not everyone can do that, I know, and frankly, we never thought we’d ever own a house, much less get to live so much greener. But now we need to be ready to live without making a lot of trash. We have to consider what cleaning or household product we use so it won’t go down the drain and kill off our beneficial bacteria in the cesspool, or flow into the creek and river and kill the spawning salmon and steelhead. We’re looking at major composting, solar panels, gray water systems, energy-efficient insulation for heat and cooling, and best methods for all manner of things, from what we’ll eat and how we’ll heat the home, to what sources we’ll use to refurbish and build. Reuse, renew, scavenge, and recycle… all of those will play a heavy role in the fixing-up of the house. That’s a lot to think about, and it’s a very exciting time for the Tracey-Park-Rodrigues-Romero clan.

The Plastic Purge: It’s a dry run to see how (easy? hard) it is to live with fewer plastics in our lives.

So — here’s a different thought for the day. Our Boy is 13 and doesn’t play with toys much anymore. He plays baseball and practices kung fu, rides a skateboard and a bicycle. But his Lego and Bionicle days are over. That’s a blessed relief, because it’s hard to purge plastics when the Lego company sends a new catalog every month, and all of their items are plastic. Every item is also considerably sheathed and swathed in plastic, plus plastic wrap, inside a box with plastic…argh! I could say the exact same thing about Barbie. In fact, the Toys R Us flyer in the Sunday paper is a frightening nightmare of plastic. It seems that toys are not often made of wood or cloth anymore. When my daughters were younger, they loved the American Girl dolls. I spent a lot of time sewing clothes and pillows and quilts for the dolls, but they also had their plastic “food” and accessories. We used to get the Hearthsong catalog, which has wooden, fiber and cloth toys — pricey but somewhat more organic.

Since my kids have grown out of toys, and their entertainment now seems to be electronics, movies and friends, I don’t have the toy debate to argue here. So what do you parents of younger children do as far as plastic in toys? Are you concerned about lead or BPA in plastics? Do you limit your child’s exposure? How do you dispose of plastic toys that your kids no longer play with — or have demolished? I’d be interested to hear from parents who are in the thick of it right now. What choices do you make for your children’s playthings? Please post a comment. Thanks!

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Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of "Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop" and "Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News" (rep'd by Booktrope). She is the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. Her articles have appeared in Thrillist, Quill, Paste, San Francisco Chronicle, and in many magazines; her latest poetry appears in The East Bay Literary review.

4 Comments

  1. noreply@blogger.com'

    Ann
    June 20, 2011

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    Before I had my son, I wanted no plastic toys in the house. We saw the mountains of plastic toys our friends’ children (never) played with and thought, what a waste.
    However, I quickly realised that no matter what I wanted, our families and friends were not going to listen and continue to give our son plastic toys. Granted, they’re carefully chosen and he loves them! And I don’t have the heart to say no.
    So, we don’t buy him any toys ourselves, plastic or otherwise. And he still has lots! I promptly give away any toys he’s grown out of, so he never has too many.
    I find and give away his toys on Freecycle, or they go to his little friends. At least this way I don’t feel I’m contributing directly to landfill.
    As far as BPAs/toxins go, I’m not vigilant. Perhaps I should be.
    Ann

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    Wendy
    June 21, 2011

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    Congratulations on the house! I can’t think of anyone who’d make a better steward for the land than you!
    We’ve pretty much stuck to second hand toys, except for gifts, and stuff the kids buy for themselves (damn the dollar store!!). Tons of plastic. What little has left in still usable condition has gone back to the thrift store. Most, after 15 years and four boys, goes to the dump. The gifts we buy the boys are usually electronics as well, although that decision was based on clutter, not plastic. My favourite toys are old matchbox cars, metal tonka trucks, and some of the newer metal ‘collector’ cars. They stand the test of time without the plastic. Board games are still a hit around here, and their best gifts ever were a basketball net and a trampoline.
    I haven’t paid any attention at all to toxins and BPAs in toys. The boys were all past the mouthing stage when we started hearing about all the dangers and recalls on the news. Our local thrift stores have a no resell policy on children’s items that have been recalled, outlawed, or expired. It might even be a law in Ontario, but I’m not sure. What I’d really like to know is why aren’t there any sort of recycling programs for the millions of car seats and booster seats that can’t be resold, or in some cases, even given away.

  3. noreply@blogger.com'

    Kat
    June 22, 2011

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    Timely to find your blog on plastic as I am in the middle of reading “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story”. Even before having kids, I preferred what I considered to be the classic toys – wooden blocks, lincoln logs, dolls, matchbox cars, toys designed to last. After having children, I still prefer the same toys but I cannot control everything that comes into our home or what type of toys they have at the library or museum. My boys prefer their wooden train tracks, wooden blocks and metal cars to play with everyday, but they also have a fair amount of what I consider cheap plastic toys from friends/relatives. If possible once they lose interest, I donate to charity what is still usable and the rest is thrown away. The only attention I pay to BPA/toxins is to try and avoid as much plastic as I can in their toys. Only so many battles I can pick with what is coming into the house from others.
    What I find interesting in toys is that fact that my children are playing with toys from when my husband was a kid – these toys are 25+ years old – and they are still usable and holding up just fine. If you give them a brand new plastic toy, it is rare that they grow tired of something before it breaks/cracks/no longer works. When it comes to children’s toys you can really see the difference in quality and longevity from years past versus present.

  4. noreply@blogger.com'

    Arabella
    June 28, 2011

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    I’m pretty lenient in terms of letting my kids watch television, but one thing I really try to limit is their exposure to commercials. We tend to watch commercial-free programming or DVD’s (or VHS tapes). I think this has really cut down on their desire for the latest plastic landfill-crowding knick-knack. We’re not perfect by any means, but I think they generally have less interest in name-brand toys than some of their peers. Their current favorite “toys” are living Venus fly trap plants, biodegradable natural rubber latex balloons, and good old sand. In my experience, kids love anything messy, and we’re fortunate that so many messy things are both natural and wholesome–sand, water, (homemade) play dough, etc. I also bring them in the kitchen when I’m cooking and let them wash their hands and “help.” Makes for talk about where our food comes from, as well as great quality time.

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