As parents and caregivers, we’re faced with so many decisions when it comes to the health and well-being of our children. We make sure they’re well fed with nutritious foods to keep their minds and bodies growing. We prioritize their sleep so they can actively participate in daily activities. We even make sure they’re getting proper socialization to enable the formation of healthy relationships throughout their life. But, did you know that something as simple as the toys you choose are equally as important? With so many brands and advertisements out there, how do you know what is best? I’m going to tell you.
When choosing toys for your own children, not only is it important to search for items to avoid choking hazards and that are also age appropriate, but it’s just as important to choose toys that are free of heavy metals and synthetic materials. Sadly, over 50% of parents believe toys that contain harmful chemicals wouldn’t be allowed in children’s stores. In fact, our government has subscribed to following the philosophy of “safe until proven otherwise”.
A majority of the toys on the market today are full of lead, the most common toxin which is also known to impact brain development; flame retardants; PVC or Polyvinyl Chloride, found in everything from pacifiers, to flooring, to food packaging – highly flammable and a known carcinogen; BPA, a hormone disruptor that mimics estrogen, often leaches from toys when heated; polyurethane, essentially a form of petroleum, often contains formaldehyde; and phthalates, a hormone disruptor that is known to interfere with growth and reproductive development. Toy stores are becoming more and more like a toxic minefield these days.
In the rest of this article, I will guide you in how to make your toy box one of the healthiest places for not only your child, but for the planet as well. I will also list my top 10 eco-friendly toy brands and the reasons why they rock!
Important things to remember when choosing safe and eco-friendly toys.
Stay natural. Look for toys that are made of natural materials. For example, toys made from solid, non-stained, natural finish wood and organic textiles (i.e. wool, felt, organic cotton, hemp) are great starting points.
Search locally. Reduce emissions by buying local. Not only does this support small businesses, but it also reduces greenhouse emissions. The average distance a product travels is 1500 miles, mostly by air and truck, increasing our dependence on petroleum. By buying locally, you conserve the energy that’s used for transport. Avoid toys made in China, India, and Taiwan, as these re the highest offenders of pollution through production.
Read labels. Figure out exactly what each toy is made of and where it was made. Get to know each toy before your child gets their hands on it. Just because a product claims to be “child friendly” doesn’t mean it is safe. Be sure to also search for recall notices to gain as much information you can about each toy entering your home.
Buy for longevity. Look for items that will last. It’s true that high quality toys cost a bit more, but they will last a lot longer. This means that they can be handed down from one child to the next. If you are buying from dollar stores, the chances of them being unsafe are very high. These toys are made with the cheapest materials possible and more often than not are coming from China.
Re-purpose. Up-cycling can be very cost effective and great for the environment. Walk around your house with an open mind. Can something you already own be used as a toy? Just because it doesn’t come from a toy store, doesn’t mean your child can’t get some use out of it. Empty boxes, fabric scraps, wooden spoons, or stainless steel bowls can provide hours upon hours of open-ended fun.
Cheaper isn’t better. Avoid cheap costume jewelry and cosmetics, as well as synthetic plastic toys. All of these are considered high risk for various chemicals. These items are filled with high levels of lead and many other questionable chemicals.
Age is a factor. Keep in mind that infants and even toddlers are more likely to put toys into their mouth. Look for toys that are made with non-leaching materials to keep their bodies safe from harsh chemicals.
Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s get to the part you’ve all been waiting for. My top 10 eco-friendly toy brands and why I love them.
Haba: Their wooden toys are painted with solvent-free, environmentally friendly, and water-based stain. Their paints are all lead and formaldehyde free. Their fabric toys are made from organic materials with polyester stuffing (all of their materials are Oeko Tex 100 Certified). Their toys are fully washable and have the softest and cutest colors I have ever seen. Every product is bright and colorful, which is great for your child’s growing mind. HABA has really great toys for all ages.
Green Toys: All of their products are made from recycled milk containers. The plastic is made from a high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is considered to be one of the safest and cleanest plastics around. Green Toys makes very durable products that are able to withstand your child smashing them around. Their toys are long-lasting, open-ended (have multiple ways to use them), and super easy to clean!
Lamaze: Let me first point out that Lamaze toys aren’t well known for being very “green”. The company is, however, set on making safe products for children. Most of their products are made from fabrics that are free of PVC and Fire Retardants. While there are plastic pieces present, they are made of safer plastics like ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, which is a non-leaching and stable plastic resin) and EVA Foam (which is a safer replacement for PVC).
Begin Again: This is a fairly unknown company that makes one-of-a-kind eco-friendly toys. None of their toys require batteries, as they are all electronic free. This means that children are the real noisemakers. Begin Again encourages children to collaborate and share to build a partnership of ideas by creating toys that are open ended. These toys encourage communication and working together to problem solve and create ideas. They use plant based materials, and are known to give 1% of every sale back to the community. Begin Again toys are made out of natural rubber, natural cotton fabrics, harvested woods, wheat starch plastic, and bamboo. Their toys are split into categories, including: beginner toys, toys for an artist, toys for a writer, toys for a hero, toys for an inventor, and toys for a sportster.
B. Toys: Aside from their fully recycled packaging and their use of non-traditional children’s colors, B. Toys represent creativity and innovation. Every one of their toys is free of BPA, and MOST of their toys are free of PVC. They do not use phthalates in the manufacturing of any of their toys. B. Toys are most commonly found at Target, which make them reasonably priced as well. All of their products include funny quotes and stories from real children in their toy tags.
Plan Toys: This company is very well known for their wooden toys. They are often recognized for being a GREEN company who use green materials and green manufacturing. Each toy is made free of formaldehyde and heavy metals, and instead use water based paint and lots and lots of wood. Plan Toys makes it their mission to create products that are great for everyone, age 0 to 100.
Wish Bone: This eco-friendly company strives to create sustainable wooden bikes for kids. Wishbone Design Studio creates wooden bikes that reduce manufacturing material consumption therein helping the environment in a positive, sustainable way.
North Star Toys: All of their toys are assembled in New Mexico, in a company that runs on 100% renewable energy. North Star Toys are made from sustainably harvested woods or wood scraps from local cabinetmakers. All of their toys are finished with food-grade oil and their paints are non-toxic water based paint (certified lead free). Their toys are not only beautiful, but they are 100% functional to withstand years and years of play.
Artterro: This company brings out the creative side in our children. Their goal is to make it easy and affordable for children to create art pieces with their family and friends. Each eco art kit is a collection of natural materials and project ideas. Their kits are assembled at a Goodwill facility in Wisconsin, and their packaging is made of recycled materials that can be upcycled into a frame for your child’s finished artwork. The kits are stocked with items such as: hand-made paper, wool felt, glass and wooden beads, copper wire, batiked fabrics, and cotton thread.
Tegu: This business has made it their mission to address unemployment and neglected natural and human resources in Honduras. They use natural and non-toxic materials to create wooden block sets. Their wood blocks contain magnets that are safely enclosed inside the wood, which adds a new dimension to your typical building block. Their coatings are water based and non-toxic.
Now go forth and play the eco-friendly way!
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