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Greener Toys: A Guide to Finding Safer and Eco-friendlier Gifts for the Green Generation

By HHI Staff

Some babies born today, unlike their parents, will never wear flame-retardant pajamas or chew on phthalate-laden plastic teethers. Increasingly, concerns about the environment and the potential health effects of toxins have parents and concerned gift-givers searching for safer, eco-friendlier toys and children’s products. But despite growing consumer demand, green toys can still be difficult to find. Below, we’ve put together some tips on what to look for, and resources to help you find the best, most sustainable products for your baby or child.

 

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What is a green toy?

The answer varies widely based on individual beliefs or perceptions, but in general, green toys incorporate aspects of both sustainability and safety. Sustainable products may be made from renewable, biodegradable, or recycled materials, or may be recyclable themselves. Many people also take into consideration the environmental impact of the production and transportation of a product, and some even extend the green moniker to include fair trade practices. Most consumers also expect green or 'natural' products to be less toxic and safer for children.

A Look at Labels

Look beyond vague product claims like “natural,” “green” and “earth-friendly.” They say nothing about the materials used, the production or manufacturing methods, and of themselves do not indicate safety or sustainability. Instead, look for specific information on the materials used, any certifications obtained, and compliance to defined safety standards.

Toy Safety

After the massive toy recalls in 2007, an alarmed Congress quickly and overwhelmingly passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which imposes stricter limits on hazardous substances and requires rigorous testing on all products intended for children 12 and under. Unfortunately, the well-intended legislation had unintended consequences. In response to controversy about the law’s effects on small businesses and hand-crafters (testing is not inexpensive), the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a stay of enforcement on the testing requirement until February 10, 2010.

Until it’s sorted out, parents in search of toxin-free toys will have to do their homework.

Beyond Lead

The hazards of lead are widely known, but it isn’t the only cause for concern. Mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and bromine are just a few of the less-publicized health hazards that can be lurking in children’s toys, furnishings, clothing, and personal care products.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, two hormone-like chemicals that until recently were commonly used in plastic items for children, have also caused concern. Six types of phthalates are currently restricted by the CPSIA. The safety of BPA is being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration, which now considers the substance potentially harmful to children.

Online Resources

 

A number of resources are available online that provide safety information and test results for specific consumer goods.

Healthy Toys, a project of the Ecology Group, tests toys for the presence of lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic, bromine and mercury and publishes the results on its website. The Ecology Group also publishes www.HealthyStuff.org that includes products besides toys.

To find safer baby-care products like lotions, soaps, and shampoos, consult www.cosmeticsdatabase.org database by Environmental Working Group. (Note: Product formulations may change from time to time, so check that the ingredient list on the Web site actually matches the one on your product.)

The Good Guide is an online database that rates products based on aggregate data from a variety of sources. Ratings reflect environmental, social, and health performance of products and companies - not just the presence of toxins in the product itself. 

What you need to know:

 

•   Toxic substances are not discernible by sight or feel.
•   Natural is not synonymous with non-toxic. (Lead, mercury, and arsenic are all naturally-occurring substances in the earth.)
•   Brand or country of origin are not reliable determinants of a toy’s safety. The “best” and “worst” lists on www.healthytoys.org has products from the same company, and the Ecology Group says it has found no correlation between safety and country of origin.

Check for Recalls

Even the most responsible companies are not exempt from product recalls. Check the latest recall information at the CPSC Web site, or sign up to have recall notices delivered by email.

 

Also, be sure to consider the relevance of the claims. For example, post-consumer recycled packaging may be great for the environment, but it doesn’t mean the product inside is safer for baby.

If you aren’t sure whether a product contains materials you’d like to avoid, contact the manufacturer. (As of August 2009, all children’s products sold in the U.S. are required to be labeled with manufacturer and product tracking information.) If the company has a Web site, read its philosophy, policies, or product information.

Greener Materials

Plastic has been a favorite material for toymakers and parents alike because it is lightweight, durable, and easy to clean. But the problem with plastic is that it virtually never goes away—it accumulates in oceans and landfills. And certain plastics, like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polycarbonate, and polystyrene, contain chemicals that may pose health risks to the rapidly developing bodies of young children.

It isn’t necessary to eliminate all plastic from your child’s playroom, but alternatives are available for some products.

  • One way to distinguish between different types of plastics is to look for recycling codes. Look for numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5, or the abbreviations PET (or PETE), HDPE, LDPE, PP. These are not known to leach any chemicals of concern, and are widely recyclable.

Wood is a popular alternative to plastic, but is not without its hazards. Paints, glues, and preservatives used on wood products may harbor harmful substances. Untreated and unfinished wood is the safest in terms of toxicity, but non-toxic, water-based inks, dyes, and paints may also be acceptable.

  • Certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) means the wood was harvested responsibly according to FSC standards.

Fabric seems harmless enough, but pesticide use and chemical production processes for conventional fabrics leave a lot to be desired from an ecological standpoint. Fabric finishes, like the ones that make garments flame-retardant or resistant to wrinkles, contain chemicals that normally would be labeled “Keep out of reach of children.”

But the organic fabric market continues to grow, and shoppers can find a broad selection of organic clothing, bedding, and toys. Purists should look for 100% organic unbleached, undyed cotton. (Wool and cotton offer a few muted shades of all-natural color.) Others will find a wider range of colors in organic products using low impact (aka fiber reactive) synthetic dyes.

  • The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Oeko-Tex Standard 100 are two widely recognized certifications for textile products.

Shopping Resources

Green Toys www.greentoys.com takes classic favorites and makes them greener by using plastic made from recycled milk jugs. All toys are made and tested in the U.S. and are compliant to applicable state, national, and international safety standards.

Plan Toys www.plantoys.com uses wood from rubber trees and a special kiln drying process to make its large collection of innovative toys for every developmental stage of childhood.

Under the Nile www.underthenile.com sells GOTS certified toys and clothing in sizes from newborn to adult.

Positively Organic www.positively-organic.com sells organic baby and toddler clothing.

ThinkBaby www.thinkbaby.com sells polypropylene baby bottles and stainless steel feeding sets.

Lifefactory’s www.lifefactory.com glass baby bottles have an innovative silicone sleeve to help protect them from breakage.

G-diapers www.gdiapers.com have a re-usable outer pant with biodegradable interior liners.

Eco-tots www.ecotots.com children’s furniture is made using FSC-certified wood without formaldehyde or toxic finishes.

Specialty Retailers

Green Edge Kids www.greenedgekids.com is an online clothing retailer specializing in eco-fashion from a variety of manufacturers in sizes 2-14. An online catalog includes helpful photos and product information. The company also recently launched its own line of eco-denim.

Eco Time Toys www.ecotimetoys.com carries an extensive selection of greener toys from a variety of manufacturers. Its “Green Toy Knowledge Base” is helpful.

Fat Brain Toys www.fatbraintoys.com has offerings from major manufacturers as well as specialty companies. Emphasis is on educational toys. Its Toy Safety Information Center includes safety statements from all of its vendors.

 

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HHI is committed to accuracy of content and correcting information that is incomplete or inaccurate. With our broad scope of coverage of healthful indoor environments, and desire to rapidly publish info to benefit the community, mistakes are inevitable. HHI has established an error correction policy to welcome corrections or enhancements to our information. Please help us improve the quality of our content by contacting allen@healthyhouseinstitute.com with corrections or suggestions for improvement. Each contact will receive a respectful reply.

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Greener Toys: A Guide to Finding Safer and Eco-friendlier Gifts for the Green Generation:  Created on September 22nd, 2009.  Last Modified on June 19th, 2011

 

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