July 5, 2011

Greener, Safer Kids' Toys

Every parent hopes to provide the best for their child. Parents want to give children toys that will entertain and enrich their minds, not ones that can harm them and the environment we work so hard to protect for them.

Toys considered “greener” are safer for children (especially the very young ones who put things in their mouths), are made of more sustainable materials, and are manufactured in way that produces less environmental waste and pollution. Here's what to look for when seeking greener, safer toys for your child.

Start with the best toy of all . . . imagination. Your home is already stocked with things your child can play with. Add a wooden spoon to a few pots and pans and you have a drum kit. Old clothes make for a great dress up session. A little creativity is all you need to act out your favorite fairy tales. And never forget the endless possibilities a cardboard box holds.

Crafts are another great way to get kids using their imagination. A few simple supplies like non-toxic paints, glue and scissors can help your little artist transform boxes, paper rolls, used paper and cardboard, pine cones, rocks, leaves, and such into their own masterpiece. Before throwing anything away think of how you might be able to use it in an arts and crafts project. If you're not particularly crafty, there are plenty of books at the library full of ideas. Put together an “invention box” with paper holders, bottle caps, leftover bits of ribbon and yarn, left over art supplies, etc. and see what your child's imagination comes up with.

Who needs toys when you have the whole great outdoors to play with? A University of Illinois study found that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were able to raise their attentiveness scores simply by taking a walk outside. Being in nature can benefit your whole family's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. You can plant a garden together, go on a nature walk right in your own neighborhood, hit the playground, or play something as simple as tag or hide and seek.

When you are looking to purchase toys consider buying used. There are great deals to be found in thrift stores and on eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle. Many consignment stores will check for recalls for you or you can check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission web site yourself before making a purchase. Buying secondhand toys saves you money and helps keep perfectly good toys out of landfills.

When purchasing new toys, take into consideration the toy's durability and longevity. You want toys that are solidly constructed so you don't have to buy a replacement after a short time. A multi-faceted toy that can be used in multiple ways (think blocks and simple dolls and cars) will last much longer than a gadget toy that only performs one function. Long lasting toys save you money and cut down on trash.

Avoid toys made with polyvinyl chloride (i.e., PVC or vinyl). PVC releases toxins into the environment through every step of its life cycle – from manufacturing to disposal. Many PVC toys also contain phthalates, hormone-disruptors with strong links to cancer. Opt for plastic-free toys made of wood, cloth, wool, or paper.

Avoid metal kids' jewelry and toys with small metal pieces or magnets. These items are perpetually being recalled due to lead content or paint. Despite all the recalls, a study by the Center for Environmental Health found that many of these products still on shelves are also tainted with lead. Even if lead is not an issue, there are still other toxic metals, such as cadmium, antimony and barium, being used to make imported kids' jewelry.

Toys made of wood, on the other hand, are a great idea. Wood toys last much longer than plastic ones and, so long as they are not treated or painted, they are safer for young children to chew on. Toys made of bamboo are a particularly good option because bamboo is a fast-growing renewable resource that requires no pesticides and little water.

Thanks to its excessive use of pesticides, cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Not exactly the what you want your little ones snuggling up with. When selecting fabric toys, like stuffed animals, opt for ones made from organic and naturally-dyed cotton, bamboo, or wool whenever possible.

It's one thing to say avoid toys made with PVC or painted with lead paint and quite another thing to actually try and figure out what toys are made of. Toys today do not include an ingredient list on their labels, which can make the shopping process difficult and worrisome for parents. Especially when you consider that about one third of the 1,500 toys tested by the Ecology Center contained medium to high levels of toxic chemicals. Fortunately, sites like GoodGuide.com and HealthyStuff.org provide a tremendous resource for conscientious toy shoppers.

The scientists from GoodGuide.com have analyzed data taken from numerous sources and rated toys based on environmental, social, and health attributes. You can use this online database to view the top- and bottom-rated toys in various toy categories or look up a specific item. If your item is included in the database (and it is a good-size database), it will let you know if the item contains lead, mercury, chlorine, or other unwanted chemicals.

HealthyStuff.org has tested thousands of toys since 2007. This online database, created by the nonprofit The Ecology Center, is based on research conducted by environmental health organizations and other researchers throughout the U.S. and includes information on over 8,300 products. Each product tested is given an overall rating, as well as an individual chemical rating for cadmium, chlorine, lead, arsenic, bromine, mercury and, for some product categories, tin.

Once you find a company that offers green, safe toys you and your child like, stick with them. Today even companies like Amazon and Toys R Us have an Eco-Friendly or Green toy category. They wouldn't do so if there wasn't a market for it. By continuing to demand safe toys for our children we can continue to increase this market until the day when all toys will be green toys.

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