Toy rental and toy sharing services parents can't get enough of
Toy buying is no longer what it used to be: eco-conscious parents are now using toy rental and toy subscription sharing services
Toys can also be a mega source of stress for parents keen to consume less and embrace more sustainable practices, as well as those who are just plain tired of tripping over plastic tat in every room of the house.
And of course, parents looking to teach their own kids the value of money are also mindful that they can't buy them a new toy every time another Elsa doll makes an appearance on the shelves.
Toy renting and sharing has other benefits beyond the eco, clutter-free and money-saving ones: giving your children access to a world of new toys each week or month helps to keep kids inspired and to cultivate their imaginations, as well as encouraging them to play with something they might be interested in, but won't necessarily pick up in a shop.
As we all collectively do what we can in the fight against plastic, we've noticed the toy-buying model is changing in favour of toy sharing, toy renting, toy swapping - and even toy melting/repurposing in favour of creating something new, rather than just chucking an old toy away.
Toy subscription boxes
Toy sharing subscription services have emerged as a novel way for parents to get their kids the latest toy trends without cluttering up the house or further polluting the planet.
The premise at Whirli is simple: sign up to membership (from £9.99 a month, which entitles you to access approximately £90's worth of toys), then do a pick-and-mix selection of the toys you want, from Brio train sets to Nerf Super Soakers to scooters and Grimm's wooden rainbow blocks. You can swap the toys whenever you like, or decide to keep a particular favourite for as long as you want (in fact, if a child falls in love with a specific toy, they can either buy it from Whirli at a discounted rate or keep it for free if they've held onto it for nine months).
The toys are pre-loved in good condition, and suit kids up to the age of seven. This service is especially handy for Londoners looking for trendy toys which are unlikely to be available in toy libraries, as well as those living in more remote locations.
Toy Box Tots is the toy sharing subscription box for parents of children aged six months to five years. Customers receive a curated box of age-appropriate toys based around a children's book, which kids get to keep to add to their own personal library.
This service is nifty because you can rent a toy box out for a few days - handy if you're staying somewhere for the weekend - right up to a month, and the service is also available as a monthly subscription, with the contents changing with your growing child's interests. Rentals start at £19, and they've recently launched an eco-friendly range of toy rental boxes featuring only toys made from wood, natural rubber and recycled plastics.
Toy Box Club will send you a box of toys and books every month - to keep for as long as you like - with an inspiring selection of age-appropriate, gender-neutral and educational toys in 100% recyclable boxes (subscriptions start at £35 a month, and boxes are suitable for children up to age four).
What's really fab is that visitors to London can get kitted out with the latest toys, baby and toddler gear, from high chairs to car seats, by renting it from the site, starting at £5/day per item.
Photo: Ryan Howerter
Toy libraries and other borrowing schemes
If you happen to live near one of London's toy libraries, you're in luck: these spaces are designed so parents can borrow toys on the cheap, and are also community spaces for parents to meet each other and kids to play.
Charlton Toy Library in Greenwich is a charity serving over 600 families in the borough; not only do they provide baby and safety equipment for families in need and a mobile toy loan service to isolated families, you can rock up for a stay and play session a few mornings a week with your baby or toddler, where you can test out toys for your child and borrow them from as little as 50p for up to two weeks. You can also hire out birthday party essentials like paddling pools, slides and mini trampolines.
Lewisham Toy Library is another favourite for those in Lewisham, and gives families in the area access to over 2,000 toys, while Walthamstow Toy Library loans toys for under-fives, from outdoor play toys to dressing-up items (prices start at £1 for three weeks) - they also host daily play sessions for Walthamstow parents and their tots.
Pimlico Toy Library is the central London solution to toy sharing - and anyone can become a member if they have a child under eight. Come in the week for play sessions, borrow one of the library's 1,900 toys (for 50p) and even consult with a toy librarian, who can make toy-based recommendations, as well as provide ideas for play and tips on your little one's eating and sleeping habits.
For those with older kids who are LEGO-obsessed (note: you're unlikely to find LEGO in the toy subscription boxes), there are dedicated sites where you can rent out LEGO on a monthly basis. Try Build UR Bricks, which starts at £11.99 a month and includes Disney Princess, Ninjago, Architecture and Star Wars sets.
Wyatt and Jack turns pool toys into totes
Toy upcycling schemes
Just like people are searching for ways to prolong the longevity of their clothing and furniture, turning toys into something other than landfill waste is the way of the future - and some brands are doing it in exceptionally clever ways.
Take Wyatt and Jack: the brand takes broken pool floats, bouncy castles and beach toys that would be chucked away and upcycles them into the most vibrant coloured bags and accessories - check out their Inflatable Amnesty® project if you have a unicorn lido in need of a second life.
ecoBirdy's fab furniture is made from recycled plastic toys
ecoBirdy is another company to know: the Belgian brand takes old plastic toys and transforms them into ultra-stylish and durable kids' design fixtures, like chairs, tables and animal-shaped lamps. Spoiler alert: the pieces are stunning.