Green Shopping: Eco-friendly toys

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With all the latest recalls of lead-contaminated toys, parents have a right to know which toys are safe and how to determine if they are or not. I am astounded that toy manufacturers would even consider lead as a component of a toy a child naturally puts in its mouth!

Lead is known to affect the brain and nervous system, causing brain damage, delayed physical growth in children, behavior or attention problems, and kidney damage. A high dose of lead can send a child into a coma.

Toy materials toxic hit-list

Besides lead, other toxic ingredients, including BPA, phthalates and cadmium are also used in toy manufacture.

BPA is a chemical used to harden plastic. According to the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), BPA exposure is linked to ‘altered development of the brain and behavioral changes, a predisposition to prostate and breast cancer, reproductive harm, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.’

Phthalates mimic human hormones. Phthalates therefore affect reproductive and developmental health.

Cadmium replaced lead, but is more toxic. It is a carcinogenic heavy metal and ranks as #7 on the CDC’s list of 275 most hazardous substances in the environment. Cadmium exposure has been shown to delay brain development in children and cause kidney troubles and cancer.

Mostly, toys manufactured in China are made with these horribly toxic ingredients. American companies do not carefully oversee the supply chain the factories use.

Where to find green-friendly toys

How can you avoid toxic toys and preserve the health of your children? What makes an eco-friendly toy?

First of all, shop locally. Things like lead that are banned in this country are not regulated in many others. Avoid toys from large corporations where toxic ingredients can slip through the cracks, and buy from local artisans. When my kids were young, we bought wooden toys from a local woodworker. Ask local craftspeople if they use local materials. My toymaker harvested wood from our forests.

Be sure the finishes on toys are safe for kids to be ingesting, or better yet, buy toys with no external coatings at all. Lead paint has no business covering a toy!

Eco-friendly toys materials

Eco-friendly toy materials are:

  • Bamboo – This is a plant that grows fast and renews quickly after harvest. Bamboo does not need to be planted every year, and it needs little water and no pesticides to grow. It’s a very durable material for toys!
  • Rubberwood – This is harvested from rubber trees that are too old to be used to produce rubber. Instead of burning down old trees, they get a new life.
  • Organic cotton – Cotton has no regulations as far as pesticides. It is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world. Organic cotton is better, but the downside to all cotton is that it needs an inordinate amount of water to produce. The most eco-friendly thing to do is stay away from cotton altogether. I have listed other fabrics in this post about eco-friendly clothing
  • Wood – A natural material, wood should be locally harvested, sustainably harvested or reclaimed. Toys with no finishes are best.
  • Recycled materials – There are some plastics that are recycled into toys. My beef about this is that, even though it is recycled, it is still plastic and will never biodegrade. Plastic remains in our environment for hundreds of years. Avoid it if you can. Look for toys of recycled fabrics and paper.
Wooden toys

Photo: seelensturm

Recycling toys, and starting a toy library

Recycled toys are my favorite, avid recycler that I am! When my kids were young, I watched them play with a toy for a few days and lose interest. I thought a toy library would be a great idea, where toys gets loaned out over and over again, just like library books. Someone in my community actually started a toy library, but not long after, we moved away. This is the best of recycling, but if there is no toy library where you live, consider starting one.

At the very least, buy toys at yard sales, second hand stores and flea markets, or consider a small swapping ring with friends and family. Keep those toys moving around! You’ll be recycling, and the kids will never get bored.

When you are buying new, choose toys with environmentally sensible packaging. Packaging should be minimal (one toy should not fill your trash bin), made of recycled materials (this should be stated right on the box), should be recyclable and/or biodegradable (this should be stated on the box).

Buy from sustainable businesses. Ask if their supply chain is green. Look for local companies and those that use renewable energy.

There are no standards for toy safety, so it is up to you, the consumer, to do your homework. Your child deserves creative fun time coupled with good health!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.