Ugh. My son loves Legos & other plastic toys.

Via on May 19, 2012
Ethan with Dutch and his Legos (not from a set).

Being a green mom is an ongoing battle.

I wrote this three years ago on my blog, but the battle continues…

It is not easy to be an “eco mom” and, however hard I try, I cannot make ours the über-virtuous green household of perfection.

No matter how many times I remind my husband and son about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or the limits that should be put on certain toys, they haven’t quite gotten the message. I’m guessing I’m not alone amongst eco moms and, if there isn’t already, I think there should be some kind of green family therapy that addresses these very challenges.

If my son has money in his pocket and I take him to the store, I hound gently remind him to consider the packaging, how long he’s going to really play with the toy or game and how much plastic is involved. I toss in an eco fact or two and, ultimately, the decision is left to him. And I struggle with this—he’s eight. Is pointing out all the facts and letting him make the final decision right? Sometimes he takes my rantings suggestions into consideration, sometimes not.

A trip to the store with my husband, on the other hand, is an entirely different experience for Ethan. I imagine the words “environmental impact” don’t even come up in conversation. More times than not, they’ll breezily return with more Lego sets, another Bakugan and possibly a couple packs of baseball cards. Part of the problem is that my husband has always been a Lego addict and the nifty kits—pirate scenes, Star Wars ships, entire cities—were not around during his childhood. The pictures on the box draw them in to adventure, new worlds and battles. My husband also finds sorting baseball cards a relaxing activity. And don’t even get me started on Bakugans.

My son and the lego necklace he designed.

My son, Ethan, has loved Legos from the day he could snap two of them together.

“I was born to build Legos,” he announced one day. “And cook.”

He and my husband can get lost for hours in the hundreds—possibly thousands–of plastic pieces they’ve collected over the last eight years. I’ll find them in the dryer, the junk drawer and once under my pillow. Maybe it wouldn’t bother me as much if they were made from recycled plastic, considering, Lego cranks out 20 billion Lego bricks a year.

I’ve had the conversation with my husband numerous times. Before Christmas, I said adamantly: “Only one Lego set.” Of course, one never knows what Santa may bring from his toy factory—years prior, before he could even read directions, Ethan received three to four new sets. This last Christmas, Ethan received one set and Santa was kind enough to throw in another bigger, better Nerf gun that shoots very non-eco-friendly bullets that are probably making their way downstream as we speak to eventually end up in our oceans.

“Santa’s not being very earth-friendly this year,” I couldn’t help saying, a sideways glance at my husband who snuck the extras in.

Then recently, Ethan had saved up some allowance with plans to buy a Bakugan board (the last Bakugan item I would allow since these circular plastic things seem to otherwise lack purpose—just another gimmicky plastic toy that kids like to trade on the bus). Craig happily took him out and they came back with—can you guess? Another Lego set (correction–two sets)! Why does one need more Legos? Their rationale: Each set has different people and parts you wouldn’t otherwise have.

What I see: the set gets built and eventually (within a week at best) dismantled with a very good chance of never being re-built as that set again. Becoming just another bunch of anonymous pieces. But the more pieces they have the greater the building possibilities, they claim.

I question myself.

Am I  robbing him of his childhood by limiting the number of Legos and other non-sustainable toys he could purchase?

I’ve suggested on occasion that they check out ebay—maybe even a garage sale—for used sets. But those would most certainly be outdated. Ugh!

One thing I do know, every Lego that we’re able to find in this house will be saved for Ethan’s kids. I just hope they’ll be deemed good enough that far into the future.

Ethan—the one who inspired me to go green in the first place—sometimes calls me the “psycho-environmental mom,” which does not come without consequences, believe me. But when we’re out in the world, he notices people accepting the plastic grocery bag for just a few items (he used to point and make a loud comment) and he’s the first to tell a cashier, “No thanks, we can carry this” even if it’s an armload of stuff and we’ve left our bag in the car. He chose the smallest tree from the 12″ leftover Arbor Day trees, saying, “I know it’s the smallest, mom. It needs the most care.” I could have cried.

So there is hope.

I just have to figure out how to get through to my husband.

My newest piece of ammo: I learned  that the plastic used in Lego is mostly acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS. Acrylonitrile is produced from propylene and ammonia; butadiene is a petroleum hydrocarbon and styrene monomers are derived from coal. It’s quite a chemical and fossil fuel cocktail.

An update:

The Lego set purchases have slowed down, I’m happy to report, now that my son is 11. I think my husband has grown tired of stepping through the sea of plastic parts in the basement. Ethan only received one set last Christmas and none for his birthday. Now that he’s into video games—another story—he spends his hard-earned dollars on those. I haven’t stopped harping on him and my husband about plastics and other environmental issues and I’m sure I never will.

Have you had a similar experience in your family?

Adapted from I Count for myEARTH.

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About Lynn Hasselberger

Lynn Hasselberger lives in Chicagoland with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, chocolate, and NYR, and has a voracious appetite for comedy. In her spare time, she blogs at myEARTH360.com and LynnHasselberger.com. A "Green Diva" and social media addict, you'll most likely find Lynn on twitter (@LynnHasselbrgr & @myEARTH360) and facebook. She hopes to make the world a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. Like her writing? Subscribe to her posts.

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14 Responses to “Ugh. My son loves Legos & other plastic toys.”

  1. Great article, Lynn! This is such a tough one. I feel like there are so many great benefits of learning play with legos and building toys, but reallly try to limit the amount of plastic coming in. Three cheers for Lincoln Logs!

    • Thanks Kate! There are definitely upsides to playing with building toys. He can play for hours on his own and it is a better outlet than video games for sure. He never got into Lincoln Logs for some reason. When he was really little, he was fine playing with boxes.

  2. Roger Wolsey rogerwolsey says:

    IMO, it's a matter of location. Legos on a table are fine. Legos on the floor hurt like hell when you step on them! #(#*&$&@^!!

  3. Jill Barth Jill Barth says:

    Lynn, we've built the Lego Death Star and we have a Polly Pocket nation going on in here… I'm with you.
    Just yesterday I was talking with another parent about all the plastic 'fun' that get's tossed and forgotten.

    Great piece. Thanks, Lynn!

  4. Amanda :) says:

    This is a wonderful article. I remember being pregnant and sure that we'd be a house with only eco-friendly toys. Well, that was almost six years ago. Today we have a house full of plastic crap in some forms you'll know (legos, transformers, talking superhero toys, etc.) and a similar eco-marital divide. We also have whole family pro-environment practices. For example we're, consciously, a one car family. We grow and buy organic food, bring our own canvas bags to all stores (not just the grocer), use eco-bulbs, compost, pick up trash, and talk about our choices. Our rule, five pieces of trash each time we go to a destination. Ultimately, I think our parenting priorities will win the day. Hopefully, those priorities are not simply confusion ;). It sounds like your son is doing just fine with his own eco choices — nice work :).

  5. Brenna says:

    I can definitely relate with this dilemma! I really like Lego for the benefits they bestow on our children, but it does really bother me that they are made from ABS. I also hate that it hurts so much when I inevitably step on some tiny piece. We do our best and sometimes we can't control everything, especially considering husbands and kids.

    • Glad I'm not the only one, Brenna. Some consider me an extremist. I really just wish Lego had a recycled brick program or figured out a way to make their stuff with recycled plastic. Those tiny pieces are for sure making their way to our oceans. Ah, well. We can only do our best. Legos are durable and, as long as you don't lose them, they will last a lifetime. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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  8. Guest says:

    I'm sorry. People will hate me for this but, the plural of Lego is Lego not 'Legos'. It just drives me nuts hearing Legos.

  9. Thanks, Amanda! Plastics! Can't live with 'em. Can't seem to live without 'em (as I type on my plastic keyboard). love your term eco-marital divide. Ha! Keep up your great work in your family.

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