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Best wooden toy alternatives: 7 sustainable buying options

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  November 25, 2022

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Always something to do for the holidays or rainy day?

Play Choice now has the ultimate activity book collection, with over 60 pages of fun coloring pages and educational puzzles.

Wooden toys is very good for development. In Montessori they would say that it is close to nature and therefore you learn from the hand feeling alone.

It's also sustainable when done right, like side plants like Melissa & Doug brands do. Bamboo is the best alternative. This Bamboo Planet marble track for example is just as sturdy and incredibly fun to play with.

In this guide, I look at the best alternatives to wooden toys with 7 examples.

Best wooden toy alternatives

Here are the best alternatives in a quick overview. Then I'll dive deeper into each of these choices.

Bamboo

Bamboo Planetmarble track

Recommended for children from 4 to 8 years old. If you like sustainability, a bamboo marble track is better than one made of wood or plastic.

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Synthetic paper

ClixusWheel Creator Pack

You bend the flexible pieces over each other so that they become convex and you can make large things with a lot of open space on the inside.

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Wool

4MCreate Easy Knitwear

Recommended from the age of 8 and really fun from the age of 9. There are some nice examples and a perfect way to get into knitting.

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Felt

HapeFelt Fruit

Felt is also made of wool and is very durable. It is also a cheap alternative to wooden toys.

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Metal

EitechCrane Windmill

This Eitech set, for example, builds 3 different models with 270 building pieces. That's a lot of building material for the money.

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Board

Melissa & DougJumbo Cardboard Blocks

Cardboard is a light, cheap and very sustainable alternative to wood with 60% less CO2 and oil emissions compared to the production of other materials.

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Recycled plastic

Green toysferry

Green Toys contributes to reducing landfill and makes all their toys from 100% recycled plastic, without BPA, phthalates, PVC or external coatings.

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Wooden toy alternatives buying guide

If you want to replace wooden toys, this can be for 2 reasons:

  1. you want a sustainable alternative to wood
  2. you want a good alternative that costs less

Hardwood toys are expensive. Very very good, but expensive.

That is why I looked at each of these alternatives to see whether it is cheaper than using wood, and whether it is a sustainable alternative.

I also checked whether it lasts a long time, because buying new toys every time is never good, even if they are sustainable.

Top 7 Wooden Toy Alternatives Reviewed

Bamboo

Bamboo Planet marble track

Product image
8.7
Toy score
Price
4.1
Replayable
4.1
Build
4.9
Best for
  • Made from sustainable bamboo
  • Large set with many possibilities
Less good
  • No options to expand

Recommended for children from 4 to 8 years old. If you like sustainability, a bamboo marble track is better than one made of wood or plastic.

This Bamboo planet offers durability and is a very nice toy from 4 years.

This marble track set offers hours of fun not only for children, but also for the whole family.

It consists of 138 parts that can be used to build mazes of various designs, with the marbles spinning through funnels before falling to the bottom of the structure.

The 138-piece set includes 30 marbles and many tubes and straight and curved bamboo rails that they can roll along.

What's great about it: the good thing about the Bamoo Planet marble track is that the manufacturer ensures that all its toys meet quality control and also meet the highest sustainability standards.

If you still have doubts about a wooden playset and don't like plastic, then this bamboo marble track is an environmentally friendly solution for you.

Synthetic paper

Clixus Wheel Creator Pack

Product image
8.9
Toy score
Price
3.6
Replayable
4.9
Build
4.9
Best for
  • Really durable material
  • A lot to build with little
Less good
  • Difficult to master
  • Very pricey

It's actually a whole new way of building, with Clixo. They have done research into how 3D constructions work and how you can make as much as possible with as little material as possible.

It is STEM toy par excellence.

You can already see a number of examples on the picture, but the possibilities are actually endless. With 20 pieces you can already make a very large construction, something that would require more than 200 pieces with LEGO.

You bend the flexible pieces over each other, so that they become convex and you can make large things with a lot of open space on the inside.

That's why you can make a lot with little. They compete with wooden toys and say they only have advantages.

Takes up less space, you can play it anywhere and not just on a flat surface.

It is made of a kind of synthetic paper that is fully recyclable. That also makes it even better for the environment.

It is very pricey, but what a good toy!

Wool

4M Create Easy Knitwear

Product image
8.3
Toy score
Price
4.9
Replayable
3.9
Build
3.7
Best for
  • Wool is cheap and readily available
  • Can be used over and over again
Less good
  • Plastic knitting needles are not very durable

Learn the lifelong hobby of knitting with your child with this beginner's kit set.

It is a very nice and educational set, but unfortunately it does contain plastic knitting needles. Not the best quality and not very durable either.

Still, it is quite sturdy and you can of course use it again and again.

Recommended from the age of 8 and really fun from the age of 9.

There are some nice examples and a perfect way to get into knitting.

Felt

Hape Felt Fruit

Product image
8.9
Toy score
Price
4.8
Replayable
3.9
Build
4.7
Best for
  • Nice and light and soft
  • A complete set for relatively little money
Less good
  • Can't cut it like some wooden or plastic play fruit

Felt is also made of wool and is very durable. It is also a cheap alternative to wooden toys.

It's lighter, so easier to transport and play with and nice and soft.

That's why I chose a nice set for the play kitchen. A good alternative to wooden or plastic fruit and vegetables.

With the cute shapes they can participate perfectly in pretend play and the felt basket is also a nice addition.

My son often goes shopping and returns with a selection of food items.

Metal

Eitech Crane Windmill

Product image
7.9
Toy score
Price
3.5
Replayable
4.8
Build
3.6
Best for
  • Metal is also a natural resource good for Montessori
  • Lots of building material
Less good
  • Pretty pricey
  • Lots of small parts

Metal is also quite expensive, although you can do a lot with small building pieces.

This Eitech set, for example, builds 3 different models with 270 building pieces. That's a lot of building material for the money.

Metal is only sustainable if it is made from recycled metal. Collecting metal as a raw material is energy-intensive and it can of course be used up.

But once it's in circulation you can make things with it again and again.

Metal toys are also good for development according to the Montessori philosophy. Like wood, you can grab it and feel what happens in nature. For example, it gets warm when you hold it.

It is perfect for construction toys. That's why I chose a construction set like this great crane from Eitech.

Board

Melissa & Doug Jumbo Cardboard Blocks

Product image
9.1
Toy score
Price
5.0
Replayable
4.1
Build
4.5
Best for
  • Very light yet fairly sturdy
  • Easy to experience great things
Less good
  • Doesn't last long

Cardboard is a light, cheap and very sustainable alternative to wood. It has 60% less CO2 and oil emissions compared to the production of other materials.

Great for making toys instead of other materials!

Cardboard is also 100% recyclable, plus it's biodegradable. That's why a brand like Melissa & Doug also has quite a few cardboard toys in their selection.

They always work as green as possible, with good wooden toys where they replant trees. But cardboard takes it one step further.

Transport is cheap because it is so light and also very easy because you can pack it very flat.

Take these large building blocks, for example. Such blocks of wood cost a fortune to transport because of their weight and size.

The disadvantage of cardboard is that the toy does not last very long. That is why I have given a slightly lower sustainability score.

This is not the kind of toy that you will pass on from generation to generation.

Recycled plastic

Green toys ferry

Product image
Price
4.4
Replayable
4.3
Build
3.7
Best for
Less good

Plastic products are not very durable. It takes a lot of energy to make and plastic cannot be broken down properly.

That is why toy products made from recycled plastic are a lot better.

But plastic also contains toxic chemicals that can be released into the local environment when recycled. So it is not 100% sustainable.

In any case, Green Toys tries to do its part to reduce the landfill and makes all their toys from 100% recycled plastic, without BPA, phthalates, PVC or external coatings.

Plastic is in itself a good wood alternative because it is easy to clean. This set even in the dishwasher.

It is also relatively light, but less easy to transport than cardboard, for example, because it cannot be folded.

If you choose plastic, choose good recycled plastic like this one from Green Toys.

Which material is more sustainable than wood?

Trees can be replanted, so as long as that happens, wood is very sustainable. Bamboo is a material that is even more durable than wood because it grows very easily and quickly. Metal is slightly less durable because it takes a lot of energy to process.

Conclusion

There are many alternatives to wooden toys. Hopefully, this guide has helped you on your way to materials and toys to look out for.

Always something to do for the holidays or rainy day?

Play Choice now has the ultimate activity book collection, with over 60 pages of fun coloring pages and educational puzzles.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Speelkeuze.nl is a content marketer, father and loves trying out new toys. As a child he came into contact with everything related to games when his mother started the Tinnen Soldaat in Ede. Now he and his team create helpful blog articles to help loyal readers with fun play ideas.