Anyone who has been a parent, teacher, or babysitter has experienced the frustration of landfill toys, even if they were not aware of the term. Landfill toys get their nickname from the fact that they are usually cheap and likely to be thrown away fairly quickly. Not all inexpensive toys are landfill toys; the term is saved for toys that are quickly abandoned — likely ending up in a landfill — for a variety of reasons.
A toy may become a landfill toy due to breakage. Toys that are poorly or cheaply made are often unable to stand up to hard use by children. Most commonly made from inexpensive plastic, landfill toys may break, melt, or lose pieces. This may either render the toy completely unusable or just less attractive — both leading to children abandoning the toy and dooming it to a landfill.
Even toys that are not broken may quickly lose their appeal. Toys with cartoon or movie characters that have lost popularity or that children have grown out of are quickly relegated to giveaway piles or garbage cans. A toy that was essential for a child's existence last week may now be forgotten or disdained.
Anyone who has bought any type of kids' meal at a fast food restaurant has probably come into contact with a landfill toy. Happy Meals® from McDonald's were the first instance of fast food landfill toys, and included cheap toys that were usually made of plastic and not built to last. Today, many fast food restaurants offer toys that feature characters from popular children's movies. Other popular landfill toys are given out as prizes at schools and carnivals and include plastic animals, cheap plastic jewelry, parachuting figures, and more.
Adults have their own version of landfill toys. Although an adult is probably not collecting fast food toys or cheap plastic prizes from school, he or she may amass electronic gadgets which wear out or must be replaced quickly. These "toys" are usually more detrimental to the environment and public health than the children's version, as they often tend to include heavy metals or other toxic materials that can contaminate land or groundwater if not disposed of properly.
Attempts to stem the tide of landfill toys include movements to reduce the amount of plastic toys manufactured, shopping at secondhand stores, recycling and donating such toys, and buying toys made from sustainable materials. In addition, many parents are becoming concerned about the possibility of these toys containing toxic materials such as lead, especially when they are manufactured in a country with little regulation.