Two years ago, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed in part to protect children from exposure to lead and phthalates in toys. By limiting lead, manufacturers had to find a new material to take it’s place. Unfortunately, instead of finding something safer, they switched to cadmium - another toxic metal. In advocacy speak - this is called “regrettable substitution.” While regulators and health groups are now pressuring industry to reduce or eliminate their use of cadmium, what could be next? And what else is in there? And, what about the bigger environmental picture of the pollution created when making or disposing of toys?
Plastics are everywhere and in most cases are very affordable and convenient. But, increasingly scientists are finding that a hidden cost may be our health. Some common plastics release harmful chemicals into our air, foods, and drinks. Maybe you can’t see or taste it, but if you’re serving your dinner on plastic, you’re likely eating a little plastic for dinner.
Beyond the immediate health risks, our increasing use of plastics is causing an enormous amount of enduring pollution. Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists (except for the little bit that has been incinerated, which releases toxic chemicals). In the ocean, plastic waste is accumulating in giant gyres of debris where, among other thing, fish are ingesting toxic plastic bits at a rate which will soon make them unsafe to eat.
Playtime should not be so complicated.
Not many of us have the budget to replace the piles of plastic cascading out of our kid’s closets and toy boxes, but we can try choosing smarter moving forward. And you may never have ALL safe, green, and non-toxic toys, but it’s not an all or nothing endeavor. And that’s okay, just do what you can.
Here are 12 ways you can reclaim the fun and reduce the worries when it comes to playtime by making your toy box healthier for your child and the planet.
- Go au natural. Look for toys made of natural materials like solid woods (with no finish or a non-toxic finish) and organic textiles (cotton, wool, felt, etc).
- Simplify. Buying fewer toys is much better for the planet (and your pocketbook)!
- Re-purpose. Can something you already have be used as a toy? An empty box or set of stainless steel bowls can provide hours of happy play.
- Look for items that will last. High quality toys may cost a bit more, but they will last much longer and can be handed down to younger children. Likewise, you’re more apt to get money back out of them if you decide to sell.
- Read labels. What’s this toy made of? Where does it come from? Get to know a toy before you buy it.
- Look for local. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by buying local. If you’re looking at global supplies, opt for European, Canadian or Japanese imports as other countries may have lax toy regulations.
- Opt for open-ended toys. Look for items that encourage creativity and are capable of being used for many different types of play. Wooden blocks, colorful scarves, smooth stones, and even cardboard boxes can be the foundation for innumerable creative adventures. Or even make your own play-do clay at home.
- Avoid cheap jewelry and kids’ cosmetics. Both of these types of dress-up products are high-risk. Cheap jewelry often has high lead or cadmium levels and kids’ cosmetics can have any number of questionable chemicals.
- Purge plastics. Okay, this is near impossible these days, but make your best effort. If you do buy plastic, look for safer plastics like those labeled #1, 2, 4, or 5 in the chasing arrows symbol usually found on the bottom of the product. Not labeled? Call the manufacturer.
- Text for Healthy Toys. HealthyToys.org is a database to help you find safer toys. You can even access it from your mobile phone. Just text key words and you’ll receive information immediately regarding any testing that’s been done.
- Sign-up for recall alerts. The Consumer Product Safety Commission posts recalls online, as does the website recalls.gov. If a toy you own is recalled, take it away immediately and follow the company’s instructions on how to get a safe replacement.
- Have fun! Play time isn’t about what you have, it’s about what you do. Get down and dirty with your kids. Laugh and simply enjoy spending time together.
Are there any toys you simply won’t allow in your home?