Teach the young to avoid plastic

A child plays with recycled toys.
A child plays with recycled toys.PHOTO: INTERVIEWEE

In conjunction with our drive to ditch plastic straws and plastic packaging, perhaps more can be done to cultivate an aversion to plastic in our young.

I rarely shop for toys for my five-year-old, partly because I find them too expensive when they aren't made of plastic, and environmentally hostile when they are.

While plastic toys are cheaper and often come in exciting, vibrant colours, just about every one of them is made of PVC, which could contain additives such as bisphenol-A, phthalates, cadmium and lead. Therefore, beyond environmental concerns, plastic toys may also pose health risks.

I recall being at a party where human-size stuffed animals were given out as grand prizes.

The interesting thing I noted was how much more thrilled the children were with the cardboard boxes left behind than with the stuffed animals.

Truth is, children don't need flashy and expensive toys that sing, dance and talk at the push of a button - as much as advertisers would like us to believe.

I think what I call "inanimate" toys work best at cranking up children's imaginative juices: "toys" such as mundane-looking milk and egg cartons, spools from exhausted toilet rolls and paper towels, twigs, sticks, stones and leaves found in a park, and, perhaps best of all, the all-enhancing outdoor natural environment.

Most children can easily remember the "reduce, reuse and recycle" mantra; with coaching and exemplifying behaviour from adults, it can be meaningfully incorporated into their day-to-day living.

It is not difficult to spot single-use plastic offenders around our homes, from yogurt containers and bags, to food wraps and beverage bottles.

At this point, it might seem too daunting to ban all plastic from our lives, but baby steps, no matter how small, can still be taken towards reducing, reusing and recycling this material that is so resistant to degradation.

Just as our world did not get to its present stage of global warming overnight, so too should we not expect to reverse the damage of climate change in one day.

Nonetheless, every effort made by each individual can be significant when tabulated and compounded, and there is no better place to start than in our own homes, with ourselves and our young.

Lily Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2019, with the headline 'Teach the young to avoid plastic'. Print Edition | Subscribe