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Play responsibly with these eco-friendly toys

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Take a stroll down the aisles of your local toy emporium, and you'll notice the majority of products have a few things in common.

For one thing, they're nearly all plastic. And for another, they're nearly all packaged with vast amounts of cardboard, shrink-wrap, zip-ties, and other landfill-clogging waste. Environmentally friendly? Forget about it.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. Plenty of toys will give your kids an appreciation of green concepts without destroying the environment in the process. Maybe it ain't easy being green, but snag yourself one of these top-selling hits and it'll certainly be fun.

Melissa and Doug recycling truck

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You just can't help but love this cute wooden recycling truck. Truth is, just about anything from toy manufacturer Melissa and Doug is easy for environmentally-conscious consumers to love.

Based in Wilton, Connecticut, the company's large enough that you should be able to find its products anywhere around the country, but still small enough to care about using quality, eco-friendly materials. Who needs polluting, oil-burning, non-biodegradable plastic?

Transforming Solar Robot

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Transformers are cool, but they're hardly environmentally friendly. Indeed, they're far too busy battling each other to be concerned with their carbon footprint. This cute little chap's another story: whether he's in tank, robot, or scorpion form, he's powered entirely by sunlight. (Or lamplight, if you happen to be indoors, but that's not really the idea, is it?)

It ships as a kit, which is either a pro or a con depending on your level of robotics-assembling skill -- and, naturally, batteries are not included.

Elenco Snap Circuits Green -- Alternative Energy Kit

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Elenco's fantastic Snap Circuits sets are responsible for teaching goodness-knows-how-many young folks the basics of electrical circuit theory. But there's no getting away from it: all those batteries don't come cheap, either in dollars or in environmental good karma.

This Alternative Energy kit can be used on its own or with other Snap Circuits toys, and comes with solar panels, windmills, rechargable batteries, water wheels, stored-energy devices, and all manner of other clean-energy tools.

Dole Garden Kit

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It may come to a surprise to some city kids that food doesn't just appear, fully formed and shrink-wrapped, on grocery store shelves. What better way to give them an appreciation of the work involved in raising vegetables than for them to grow their own?

This Dole-branded kit includes everything they'll need to put together their own vegetable patch: seeds, pots, row markers, and even some recipes for the finished product. As a bonus, the kids are going to be far more likely to eat their vegetables if they've nurtured them all the way from seedlings. How's that for good habits?

National Geographic Sustainable Earth Lab

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Navigating this planet of ours through the challenges of the 21st century is going to require smart, responsible kids. Get yours off to a good start with National Geographic's Sustainable Earth Lab, an outstanding set of projects and experiments that'll give them an overview of everything from the importance of water conservation to renewable energy. They'll build miniature water treatment plants, solar cells, make recycled paper and plastic, and more. Maybe there's hope for us yet.

Izar Gafni's cardboard bicycle

Wait a minute. A cardboard bicycle? Tempted as you might be to check the publish date of this documentary, it's no April Fool prank. The brainchild of an Israeli inventor, it uses just nine dollars' worth of recycled cardboard to create a fully functioning bicycle capable of carrying nearly 500 pounds of rider. Protective paint makes it waterproof, and cardboard tires make it puncture-proof too, or so we imagine. Can it really make it to market, or is it too good to be true? Its creator hopes to bring it to market next year, if he can find investors willing to join him on his wild, eco-friendly ride.

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