The recipe sounds unconventional. It calls for one plastic sugar container, one large plastic bottle, a roll of strong, bright tape, two small plastic bottles, one cap from a large fabric softener container, two empty bubble bottles and a colorful plastic bag. Once you realize that it's meant to be flown and not eaten, the odd combination starts to make more sense. If you follow the instructions, these basic materials can be put together to make a small toy helicopter. Instead of winding up in the trash can or the recycling bin, you can reuse your trash in a creative, fun way.
Although the idea of making toys out of recycled materials is far from new, it does afford designers and mothers Nati Almagor and Rachel Givon a great way to increase awareness among the most important population for the planet's future: our children. "When you show kids how things from their world can be reused to make useful and beautiful new things, they get very excited," says Almagor. "Many children are already very aware of recycling and the environment, but there is always a way to teach them something new."
The two designers and longtime friends decided to found Retoys two and a half years ago, after Almagor's daughter Noga came home from nursery school with a noisemaker fashioned out of a plastic bottle. "It started out as two mothers who wanted to collaborate on something special for their children," says Givon, who works as an industrial designer in Tel Aviv. "Things progressed very slowly because it was a side thing and not as a business, but now that we won an award for our innovative designs and recently attended the largest trade show in the world, we're hoping we can turn it into a proper business."
Using their experience and knowledge of design - Givon with products and Almagor with large sets - the pair originally started by forging items out of recycled materials in their free time at home. They experimented with toys that could be easily assembled out of recycled materials. Once they realized how popular the toys were and how much parents enjoyed the educational value of making them, Retoys branched out into several different directions, including selling one-of-a-kind toys at various fairs and markets and facilitating workshops that teach others to make their own toys.
"Rachel and I had always wanted to work together, but the idea to do this came from that noisemaker. It prompted me to consider all the wonderful things that can be made out of trash," explains Almagor.
In Retoys workshops, children learn how to make toys out of recycled materials but they also learn what types of materials can be recycled, why we should recycle them and how they can make a difference. "We've gotten really good feedback about the workshops because we are thinking outside of the box," Almagor says. "We're showing children that they can use the things they already have in new ways to create fun things."
An additional benefit to making toys out of recycled materials with your children is that it is far less expensive than buying something new and it's a great way to spend quality time together.
"I originally wanted to be a fashion designer, but I realized in my third year of studies that it would not be a suitable career choice," Almagor continues as we discuss the origins of her penchant for design. After opting to relinquish fashion in favor of drama, she enrolled at Tel Aviv University and completed a degree in theater design. Her current career as a window designer for the Comme il Faut stores here allows her to combine a love for building large items with a deep passion for expressing a unifying motif.
"I make every artistic window space with a different theme, and the ones I made for the store in the Tel Aviv port were inspired by the daily life of women," she says. "I took the general concept of the different rooms in a house and used recycled materials to build the furniture."
After scouring the city rooftops and street corners and months of raids on various family homes looking for furniture that could be refurbished, she found several wooden chairs, an old stove top, a tall bookshelf with oddly shaped spaces and a rusty washing machine as well as countless old pillows and lamps. Repainted and covered with recycled newspapers, these old pieces went from trash to treasure. "I made these things specifically for the store window, but so many people wanted to buy them that Le'ela decided to sell some of them in the hallway near her store in the port with an explanation about recycling and the evolution of the art."
Last month, Retoys participated in the "World of Baby Toys" competition at the Kind + Jugend Trade Show in Cologne, Germany. Chosen as finalists, the pair were encouraged by the trip. "We got lots of enthusiastic responses from product designers and product managers in well-known companies as well as buyers and journalists who attended," says Almagor. "We made connections with people in the industry and felt the deep hunger for this kind of product. We came home with renewed faith in what we're doing."
Although one-of-a-kind items will go on sale soon on their Web site, the possibility of mass production is not impossible. "Mass production loses part of our philosophy, but as long as it can be done with recycled materials we will think about it," Almagor says. "What is critical is that the toys remain useful and eco-friendly."