Nfld. & Labrador·Waves of Change

How to talk to kids about Christmas — and plastic toys

Meet the Rocky Harbour family who are having frank conversations about plastic toys.

Get Santa in on the conversation, says one Rocky Harbour mom

From left, Greta Irwin, Sonya Lake and Peter Irwin all talk about plastics as a family. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Waves of Change is a CBC series exploring the single-use plastic we're discarding, and why we need to clean up our act. You can be part of the discussion by joining our Facebook group.

For anyone trying to curb their plastic consumption, Christmas can be the ultimate challenge — especially when it comes to the presents on a child's wish list.

But if you're struggling to balance the environment on one hand with action figures on the other, take note of one Rocky Harbour mom's toy tactics.

"I always ask my kids, where is it going to end up?" said Sonya Lake, who strives for a low-waste lifestyle, which includes using as little plastic as possible.

The best way to get that message across to her two youngest children has been to talk about it. That means even a trip to Walmart involves a conversation about the life cycle of what's on the shelves.

I always ask them, 'What is it? Where is it from? How long do you think it's going to last?'- Sonya Lake

"If we're out and about, especially in stores, and if the kids come with anything that they want to buy, I always ask them, 'What is it? Where is it from? How long do you think it's going to last?'"

Her 10-year-old son has heard the landfill lecture "many, many times," but it appears to have sunk in; Peter Irwin said he often scrutinizes his toy choices, and has rejected some after finding them too flimsy.

"My mom talks to us about a lot of different things, like healthy eating and not spending too much time on screens and stuff. But I think the plastic thing is what she talks about the most, and really tries to help us understand," he said.

"And we do."

One of Greta Irwin's favourite toys is Lego. It might be made of plastic, but it's durable enough to be reused. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Think of the elves!

While Lake has spent years discussing environmental issues with her kids, she said, parents looking to talk about plastics with their kids shouldn't be intimidated.

"I find it's much easier for kids to really catch on to these things, and to think about them, and feel they can make an impact," she said.

"Just ask your kids. Get their opinion about things that they could do."

It's much easier for kids to really catch on to these things, and to think about them.- Sonya Lake

Although those conversations can become a bit trickier at Christmas, Lake said a long time ago she enlisted the help of Santa — and the big guy hasn't let her down.

"We decided, when we wrote Santa a letter, to ask that the gifts would no longer be wrapped," she said, adding Santa has come through each year since.

It's less work for the elves, she and her seven-year-old daughter, Greta, explained.

Lake is extending that idea to grandparents and friends this year, swapping (non-recyclable) wrapping paper for newsprint, and overall trying to prioritize family hangouts over gifts.

"I knew when I had children what I didn't want Christmas to be, and that was just for it to be all about a million presents. So the kids have kind of grown up with this conversation," Lake said.

"It's just part of our Christmas tradition."

Santa is totally cool with not wrapping gifts, if you just ask. And think of the time it saves all those elves! (Jacqueline Dormer/Associated Press)

Good toys, bad toys

Despite those sentiments, the Lake-Irwin household has everything you'd expect to see scattered about in a home with kids in it: Lego, puzzles, a scooter leaning on a wall.

Lake tempers her environmental commitments with realism, and explains that to her kids.

"Obviously, it's very difficult to avoid buying anything plastic," she said.

"If it's a toy that I know my grandkids will play with one day, fine. But if I know that by next week, that toy's going to break or end up in the garbage, then they know that that's not something that we're going to purchase."

Lake organized a pre-Christmas toy swap among moms in her community, as one way to help reduce the consumerism and costs of the holiday. (Submitted)

Lake prioritizes buying local or second-hand, and in November she organized a toy swap among other parents in town to see what toys could find another life in some other child's stocking.

Peter says he doesn't mind a used toy, and looks forward to a world with a little less plastic in it.

"I really hope that one day every single person in the world will realize how it's becoming a problem, and try to stop it, together."

Join the discussion on the CBC Waves of Change Facebook group, or email us: wavesofchange@cbc.ca.

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About the Author

Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in Corner Brook.

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