HABIT SHIFT: Plastic-Free Kids’ Magazines
Media Volunteer Dee Williams writes about the difficulty of buying children’s magazines without plastic toys and suggests some alternatives in her very interesting blog.
No matter how vigilant I try to be, at home and out in the world, about avoiding single-use plastics and generally trying to tread lightly on the earth, there’s one area that I struggle with. Or, rather, my 5-year-old struggles with. The world of kids’ magazines.
As any parent who has ever tried to do a “quick supermarket shop” with a child will know, the aisles are chocka with child-height enticing goodies, including rows of magazines. Don’t get me wrong, magazines are great: there’s something for every interest; some have cut-out and origami projects or science experiments that can promote hours of extended play; like books, magazines can help children get lost in an imaginative world even before they can read the words on the page. And, once a magazine has reached its lifespan, it can be recycled.
It’s the free toys stuck to the front cover that are problematic. I feel like they sum up everything that is wrong with the way we consume in the western world. Like fast fashion, these toys are designed to be thrown away, fulfilling a novelty value, made fast and cheap in far-away places. They aren’t the kind of toys that kids will cherish and, even if a child does grow attached, chances are the toy will break after a few plays, since they aren’t built to last. Invariably, the toys are made of plastic, and usually come wrapped in non-recyclable plastic for good measure.
The toys that my child enjoys playing with day-in-day-out aren’t the freebies that come with magazines. Or the light-up-all-singing-all-dancing gadgets that make parents want to hide every battery in the house. The favourites are the indestructible, tired old wooden train track that came in a battered box passed down from friends. The second-hand scooter covered in stickers. The paper, colouring pens, scissors and butterfly pins, and the zillions of things we can make with them. The specific piece of sea glass treasure that I’m not allowed to touch. It’s the magazines themselves and the stories in them.
That’s not to suggest that plastic toys are inherently bad. There’s a reason nobody has ever thrown away a bag of Lego – although it’s made of plastic, it lasts through generations. I’m not immediately worrying about where it’ll end up, because I know it’ll be enjoyed for years and, even then, still be in good enough condition to pass on to someone else. The same can’t be said about the toys that come free with magazines.
The answer is simple, then. Don’t buy the magazines. I don’t, but family members love to buy them as a treat for my child. When it comes to something as harmless as buying a little magazine for a kid, being green can look like being preachy but, as the collection of broken plastic freebies in a box in my kitchen attests (still there because I can’t figure out how to reuse them), it all adds up. Children’s author Horatio Clare, who has campaigned on the issue alongside environmental organisation Authors 4 Oceans, estimates that, “You can get up to 11 free gifts per magazine, but call it three on average. That’s three million plastic throwaways a week and 150 million a year. At 20 grammes of plastic, which is about right, you get three million kilos, or 3,000 tonnes. It’s a heck of a figure, and I think a very conservative estimate.” (https://www.toynews-online.biz/2018/06/19/uk-kids-magazines-plastic-toy-tat-purge-is-top-of-the-agenda-says-egmont/)
With that in mind, I set about researching some alternatives. Some direct swaps, like for like, that still result in a fun magazine in my child’s hands, and the satisfaction of a grandparent having treated them with the gift they wanted to buy, while giving some support to those publications that are daring to be environmentally conscientious.
Here are 5 brilliant plastic-free kids’ magazines that don’t harm the planet and a little about their eco credentials in their own words:
Dot and Anorak
‘Anorak Magazine, the ‘happy mag for kids’ is aimed at boys and girls aged between 6 and 12 years old. DOT is aimed at pre-schoolers. At Anorak, we are very proud of producing printed magazines on REAL (recycled) paper with REAL (vegetable) ink. It makes them smell nice and it is at the heart of our commitment to provide kids with a calm, immersive, fun piece of culture. Unlike magazines of today, neither of our publications are throw away titles. Just like much loved children’s magazines and annuals of the past they are designed to be collected, kept, handed down and revisited.’
‘Storytime is one of the UK’s leading kids magazines – packed with fairy tales, new stories, funny poems, awesome animals, myths & legends, gorgeous illustrations, puzzles, games and much more!
There are no adverts, no plastic toys, and each issue arrives in a special envelope, so children have the excitement of receiving their own post!’
Kickaround made a conscious decision to never put plastic toy covermounts on its cover. You can read more about why here:
‘Aimed at boys and girls aged 7 to 13, Kickaround is all about getting involved, about going to matches and kicking a ball, and offers a refreshing, fun, alternative look at the game for young fans.
Thousands of young people attend football matches at all levels every weekend, while even more play the game in organised teams or just for fun. Kickaround emphasises that participation is a far more enriching experience than passive consumption, and recognises that football exists beyond a few big name star players and clubs, giving equal standing, respect and coverage to the women’s game and the lower leagues.’
National Geographic Kids
‘At Nat Geo Kids, our mission is to inspire the next generation to protect our beautiful planet. We believe it’s never been more important to get children engaged with the natural world. Our magazine teaches kids about the environment, animals, science, history and culture, with all of the amazing imagery you would expect from the Nat Geo brand! Issues are published 13 times throughout the year, and are delivered to your child’s home at no extra delivery cost – what’s more, our issues are delivered completely plastic-free.’
Special Interest magazines e.g. cars, travel, interiors, baking, computers
Every kid has some topic they’re really interested in. In our house, it’s trains. Squirrels come a close second. Two fairly niche hobbies, you could say, but a quick scan in the non-children’s aisle of a decent newsagents and I can see five specialist train-lover mags and a wildlife magazine that would keep my child happy for hours. They might not have toys on the cover, but magazines aimed at adults – providing you check the content is age-appropriate – can offer facts, pictures and inspiration galore.
Which brings me to one final idea for re-using old magazines…
A great way to re-use old magazines on any topic, making zines is a fun project for kids of all ages. A zine is a handmade magazine, beloved of punks and indie kids the world over, traditionally A5 size. There’s no limit as to what it can be about. Clear a space, decide on a theme, help your child cut out their favourite images, fold some A4 paper into a booklet and get sticking, writing, colouring and drawing! Make a master copy using the old-school cut-and-glue technique (or type and format the pages on a computer and print out) then staple the pages together! For added magic, the pages can be photocopied before being stapled, to make multiple copies to hand out to friends.
For a step-by-step guide, check out:
It can be really difficult to make changes when it comes to kids’ habits, especially if they’re used to picking out a favourite magazine, but hopefully the above ideas offer some alternatives that are just as fun. I still remember the absolute joy of receiving post through the letterbox as a child. A magazine subscription could be a great way to foster that sense of anticipation and excitement, the feeling of receiving a real treat, while avoiding the lure of targeted magazines and plastic freebies in shops. Add zine-making to your rainy-day activities list and you’ll be giving that old stack of magazines a new lease of life.|