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Eco-Tip Tuesday: Non-Toxic Toys

Posted Oct 05 2009 10:03pm

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If you spend any time with babies and kids, you will quickly learn that they can make fun out of anything. Babyzilla is no exception. With the exception of staple toys like books, colorful wooden blocks, a ball, and her stuffed puppy Franklin, no toy bought for her has captured her imagination or sense of fun like mundane household objects used by grown-ups. We’ve saved perhaps hundreds of dollars and untold natural resources by making her toys out of empty boxes and food containers, or by letting her play with common household items like wooden spoons, flashlights, potato mashers, pots and pans and—her favorite—measuring cups.

Many kids have a toy chest full of plastic junk that is missing pieces and sitting idle for lack of long-term interest. Made from petroleum, most plastic toys contain toxic phthalates, BPA, fire retardants, and other chemicals that are neither safe for your child nor eco-friendly. For all their flash and advertising, these toys are actually designed to break easily and end up in landfills at the end of a rather short lifespan. And with all of the safety recalls of toys made in China, you can never be sure what your are bringing home these days.

Roughly 70 to 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States are manufactured in China.  A study by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences published April 29, 2009 in Environmental Science and Technology reports  widespread use of brominated fire retardant chemicals in Chinese-made children’s toys.

Since it is virtually impossible to keep toys out of your kid’s mouth, we need strong regulations to keep these toxins out of toys. Brominated fire retardants are dangerous for children because laboratory studies have shown that they disrupt hormone systems and effect brain and behavior. The Chinese researchers purchased and tested 69 toys, including Barbie and other dolls, soft plastic teethers, swords, race cars, foam toys and action figures. They found brominated fire retardants contaminated most of them, including:

  • Polybrominated diethyl ethers (PBDEs).  These were found in  all hard plastic, foam and stuffed toys, and a third of soft rubber toys.  The types of PBDEs found were:
    • Deca (the type of PBDE currently manufactured in highest quantity) is a form of PBDE banned in 2 states and Canada; and
    • Penta & Octa are no longer manufactured in the U.S. due to health concerns, and have been banned in 11 U.S. states, Canada and Europe.
  • Polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs). The U.S. stopped manufacturing PBBs in 1976 after several thousand people in Michigan were poisoned by the chemical.
  • Brominated-ethanes (DBDPE & BTBPE).  These are new flame retardant chemicals in use despite the absence of health and safety information.

Although Penta and Octa PBDEs are banned for most uses in Europe and Canada, and no longer made in the U.S. because of health and safety concerns, a loophole in federal regulations allows finished goods containing these chemicals to be imported. The only way to be sure your children are safe at this time is to avoid plastic toys, and all toys made in China.

Fortunately there are many craftsmen and women here in the U.S. that make beautiful toys from wood, cloth, metal and other natural, non-toxic, sustainable materials that will last a very long time, and may even become treasured family heirlooms. Nova Naturals is one such toy store, but brands like Natural Pod, ImagiPlay, Haba, Melissa and Doug, Imaginarium and Plan Toys can be found in more and more mainstream toy stores these days.

Babies and toddlers really don’t need a lot of toys to have fun, not as much as they need your time and attention. So consider buying fewer toys, making toys out of everyday household items, and buying natural-material toys that inspire the imagination and endure years of play.

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