Electronic toys – all smart and digital?

As a child, what did you wish for most on your birthday? A robot to help you tidy your room? A talking doll? Or a Gameboy? Electronic toys have been firm fixtures in children’s rooms since back in the 1990s. It’s hard to imagine life without them these days. We show just how much electronics they contain and why it’s important to recognise electronic toys as such.

Digitalisation is not just ubiquitous in our home and work lives – it’s also been part of children’s rooms for quite some time. Besides classics like talking dolls or Gameboys, even today's marble runs come equipped with sound and light effects. For board games, meanwhile, an electronic voice that gives children instructions during the game has almost become the norm.

In fact, we’ve become so accustomed to beeping, flashing or flying toys that we sometimes forget that all these “smart toys” require sophisticated technology in order to work. Thanks to increasing digitalisation and miniaturisation – with components becoming ever smaller – this technology is now so well hidden that we barely recognise batteries, power packs or other electronic components in our toys any more – or we simply can’t see them with the naked eye.

Back in 2020, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) pointed out in its report on global quantities of electronic waste that the amount of invisible e-waste is very high in the case of toys in particular. These are (broken) toys that should actually be considered electronic appliances, but we as users often fail to recognise them as such. According to UNITAR, some 7.3 billion toys fall under this category worldwide each year – equivalent to one toy per person in the world every year.

The crux of the problem is that, because we don’t see these toys as electronic appliances, far too many of them around the world still end up in the rubbish instead of in the recycling. Not only are valuable resources like copper or plastics lost as a result, there is also a risk of hazardous substances – such as the lead contained in batteries – being released into the environment if they are not disposed of correctly. What’s more, batteries are highly flammable and may catch fire when exposed to high temperatures or subjected to pressure in the waste compactor.

To stop this from happening, we have listed five pointers below to help you recognise electronic toys. After all, you can only dispose of them properly if you know what they are.

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