Benjamin Braddock, in the 1967 classic The Graduate was given this advice: “Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics”. Indeed, plastics have become ubiquitous in all aspects of our culture and the toy industry is no exception. Plastic, with its durability, light weight, vibrant colors and low cost has largely replaced wooden toys.
During the decades that followed this advice to Dustin Hoffman’s character, industry and society have dealt with the consequences of widespread plastics use as containers fill our landfills and use valuable oil during production. Recycling has played a major role in addressing these problems. As an occupational therapist and mother I look at plastic containers as a source of creative media and instead of throwing them in the recycling bin, they are cleaned and used to make toys and therapeutic activities for children.
When I look at detergent or dishwasher soap bottles I see plastic with beautiful, vibrant colors that is similar to the plastic used to make the toy boats, cups and pails that children love to play with at the beach. I notice the shape and size of the handles and whether or not the plastic is soft enough to easily cut into shapes.
I come from a family of artists. My father sculpted statues out of clay and Styrofoam and my sister is a painter and graphic artist. I didn’t quite inherit these talents but I can visualize what can be made out of a plastic bottle and then set to work “carving”. My artist’s tools consist of heavy duty scissors that are meant for cutting leather and a strong hole punch bought at an office supply store.
The boat pictured below was “carved” out of a detergent bottle. The large flat areas of the bottles can be cut to create stencils and lacing boards for preschool aged children. Cut around the spout or pouring end and you have “beads” that have such large openings, they are extra easy for toddlers to string. Bottle handles are designed to fit comfortably inside the hand and the handles of dishwasher soap bottles are small enough to be grasped as children put toys inside. I use Velcro to attach small toys to the outside of the bottle. Children love to pull them off to insert inside after the opening at top has been enlarged.
There are too many activities and photographs to include in this article. But there are many more arts and crafts projects and toys described on my website: RecyclingOT.com and in my book The Recycling Occupational Therapist (Pro-ed. Inc. Publishers). So let the toy maker inside of you emerge and save the environment at the same time. Indeed, there is a great future in plastics.