Made in China?

12Sep08

So, the birthday season is on us once again . . . a whole spate of parties to go to, and, of course, presents to buy. It’s an endless dilemma . . . I don’t like to spend too much on these things, because the children all have so much that they really don’t need these, they’re nice to have and I think should be tokens. However, if you’re not wanting to spend too much, then you’re invariably faced with a mountain of cheap plastic tat. It feels like a no-win situation.

So, we braved Toys R Us this morning . . . me and Rumpus and Minni . . . the temple of tat, the palace of plastic, the castle of c….. you get the picture. I hate it. All this brightly coloured, loud STUFF, single-purpose, inflexible, non-imaginative rubbish, most of linked to some sort of marketing for tv, film, etc. Ughhhhhh. Of course, Rumpus thinks it’s wonderland, and as soon as we’re through the door he’s hooked, just unable to see or hear past the packaging shouting at him. Sadly, he recognises all the brands and toys even though he can’t read yet – I blame myself for letting him watch too much commercial tv, but that’s the topic of another rant. I feel immediately overwhelmed by too much choice, and totally lose the ability to think – I’m just stressed and want to get out as soon as possible. The trouble is, I have NO IDEA what an 8 year old boy might possibly be into . . . so I’m fairly stumped. We start trawling through, and whilst I’m musing over jigsaw puzzles and the like, Rumpus is transfixed by transformers, power rangers and star wars. He’s never seen star wars. but he’s sure he loves it and he *must have* that enormous plastic thing (I’m not sure what it is) rightaway. I’m onto a loser here.

However, one thing I’m certain of. I’m not buying anything that’s made in China. Do you know how difficult that is? EVERYTHING is made in China these days – clothes, electrical goods, anything that’s got plastic in it. I object to it on a couple of grounds: from a humanitarian perspective, China’s human rights record is so appallingly bad I can’t bring myself to support them, and on a second count, working conditions, unionisation and workers rights in these factorys are minimal to non-existent . . . slavery by another name. And then there’s the environmental aspects – not just of all that industrial activity degrading both China’s natural resources but those of its neighbours and on a global scale as well, and all that non-recyclable, oil-based plastic that’s being pumped out. Wasteful, harmful and useless. So I’m a one-woman boycott, having nothing to do with the stuff as far as humanly possible. Of course, it puts me in a difficult position with my children: they are really not interested in the environment (too young: Rumpus today on our walk home from school drop-off as I was talking about the big old oak tree and what changes it had seen and how many creatures lived in it: “cool. there’s a big stick. I’m gonna fight the brambles with it”. <shrug – what can you do?>) and of course want what their friends have. I’ve been buying pre-loved as mcuh as possible and kind of getting away with it. Not sure for how much longer . . . . But when it comes to other kids parties, of course pre-loved aint gonna go down terribly well.

Anyway. Back to Toys R Us. I’m starting to despair of finding anything that’s not made in China and not plastic and will appeal to 8 yr old boys . . . . and indeed despair is the place we’re going, because there is nothing! Nothing at all. In the end, stressed, depressed and desperate we fall into the lego . . . yes, it’s plastic, but at least it’s not made in China, and the resounding vote is that “Bionicles are cool”. So, that’s what we end up with.

I’m consoling myself with a nice cup of fair-trade coffee and the thought that at least the wrapping paper is made from recycled paper, the cards are home-made and both are recyclable. NEXT YEAR I am going to be more organised, research better and earlier and have all my ducks in a row. And I’m going to avoid Toys R Us as much as I avoid the supermarket . . . it’s a monument to excessive consumption, waste and greed. No thank you, not for us. It’s just a shame that there is so little alternative, and what there is seems dull and over-priced.

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