Why are there still plastic toys on magazine covers?

Why do we still have single-use plastic toys on magazine covers? It seems obvious that cheap toys on the cover of magazines are unlikely to last and will likely be thrown away in household waste. They’ll contribute to landfill as most are not recyclable. And yet, you need only visit the supermarket to see that magazines and comics still have covermounts.  

Every parent knows that small children will be attracted to the comics section and the free toys. They’ll be subjected to whining and pleading until they buy one for their child, despite their reservations about throwaway toys. It is a key driver for sales. But children are also leading the way to a more sustainable future. 

“It’s utter rubbish, it not only comes in a plastic bag, it has plastic blister packaging and there are the free gifts.”

Sky Neville (quoted on the BBC website)

Skye Neville wrote to the publishers of her favourite magazine, Horrible Histories, to ask them to stop using single use plastic. She also started a petition to ask Waitrose to stop selling magazines with covermount toys. Her campaign resulted in Waitrose issuing a ban on disposable plastic toys in 2021. National Geographic Kids and Minecraft World have also scrapped plastic toys (Better Retailing). 

Kids Against Plastic Tat (KAPTAT) is still campaigning for other supermarkets and magazine publishers to follow suit. 66,000 people have signed the current petition (at the time of writing) asking Tesco to prevent plastic pollution and the next goal is 75,000. Sign it if you agree. 

Although the ‘tat’ does sometimes find its way back onto the shelves, according to Better Retailing. The main reason for that is that children’s toys are big business.

In the UK toy sales topped £3.6bn in 2022 (Toy World Mag). An estimated 8.5 million new and ‘perfectly good’ toys are thrown away every year (East Sussex County Council). One in three parents admitted to throwing away toys to the British Heart Foundation in a survey and many admitted that children tire of toys within a week. 

That figure is likely to be even higher for covermount plastic toys. Sometimes the toys are immediately discarded with the wrapping. At other times, they provide a few minutes of engagement on a car journey home. Most end up in the waste bin and go to landfill because they are not recyclable.

Covermount toys also contribute to carbon emissions as most of them are manufactured in China and are transported across the globe to be wrapped in plastic around magazines. Only to be thrown away.

There are alternatives to plastic toys. Some of our wonderful members produce plastic free toys and playsets that are a sustainable alternative. PlayPress Toys make plastic free playsets. Love Heartwood makes traditional toys like spinning tops from wood. Dalston Dolls make traditional cloth and wool dolls. Kabloom makes biodegradable seedboms to plant flowers. Plyable Design makes plywood toys. Find more plastic free products in our directory.

If magazines with cheap toys and plastic wrapping are not sold in supermarkets, it will send a strong signal to publishers. There are alternatives to plastic wrapping and junk toys. Buy plastic free toys and books instead.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.