Green Your Holidays: Avoiding Toxic Toys

Submitted by dpeacock on

As a new Godmother, I have a responsibility to spoil my Godson rotten with lots of toys. I also feel responsible for protecting him from the toxins found in many children’s products. We’ve heard about lead in toys coming from China, but we hear less about PVC plastics, phthalates, and bisphenol-A, which are found in a huge number of toxic toys made right here in the USA.

Dave Harrison's daughter teeths on a wooden ring, which he carved for her. Photo by Dave Harrison

Dave Harrison's daughter teethes on a wooden ring, which he carved for her. Photo credit: Dave Harrison.

The intrepid editors at Green America have written extensively about toxic toys, what the dangers are, and how to avoid them. I've pulled from past articles to give you a quick and easy run-down.

Toxic Toys: What To Look For

PVC and Phthalates

What they are: Polyvinyl chloride plastic, known as PVC or vinyl, is identifiable by a #3 or “V” symbol. Of particular concern for children’s health are vinyl toys such as teethers, “rubber duckies,” beach balls, and bath books. These are often made of a flexible vinyl that has been softened using “plasticizer” chemicals called phthalates.

Why they're dangerous: Studies have identified phthalates as a hormone disruptor. Phthalates may also cause liver and kidney lesions, a higher risk of certain cancers, and may exacerbate asthma and allergies in children.

How you can avoid them: Avoid PVC plastic: Unfortunately, most plastic toys don’t carry clear information about the type of plastic they’re made of, though some PVC toys may carry a #3 or the word “vinyl.” Instead of toys that contain vinyl/PVC, choose toys made of alternative materials, including FSC-certified wood or natural fabric.

Although plastics #1,2,4, and 5 don't contain these toxins, their safety is still questionable, and the editors at Green America wouldn't recommend them for kids still putting things in their mouths.


What it is: Bisphenol-A (#7) is legally used to make transparent, hard, unbreakable plastic products, such as baby bottles and “sippy” cups, and CD jewel cases.


Photo credit: DrSam via Flickr

Why it's dangerous: Very small amounts of this chemical have been shown to cause serious reproductive damage in mice, especially when the exposure occurs in utero. Exposure may cause prostate cancer, breast cancer, female infertility, and obesity.

How you can avoid it: The Natural Resources Defense Council advises parents to avoid polycarbonate (#7) plastic. When in doubt about items you already own, call the manufacturer and ask. If you notice that a clear plastic bottle or cup has become worn, or that the clear plastic of a toy has become cloudy, that may be evidence of off-gassing bisphenol-A. Throw it out. Instead, choose baby bottles and spill-proof cups made of glass or metal.


What it is: Just because a toy is plastic-free, doesn't make it safe. You'll still want to watch out for lead paint. In the US, it is illegal for the paint to contain more than 0.06 percent concentration lead -- but some toys have been found to violate those regulations.

This lapel pin is cute, but contains excess levels of lead. Photo by US CPSC.

This lapel pin is green-themed, but don't be fooled. It contained excess levels of lead. Photo by US CPSC.

Why it's dangerous: When ingested, lead can cause nerve damage, learning and behavioral problems, reproductive damage, and irreversible brain damage. It can also increase the risk of cancer.

How you can avoid it: Avoid painted toys made before 1978, when lead paint was banned in toys, residential structures, and hospitals. Try to buy toys made in the US, Canada or the EU, where lead regulations are stronger. The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning advises parents to avoid fake painted pearls, including Mardi Gras beads, and cheap children’s jewelry of the type sold in vending machines or given away as party favors. A 2006 study by Ashland University researchers found that 70 percent of the 20 cheap toy jewelry samples they tested contained illegal levels of lead.

The Good Guys

As the season for buying lots of toys for my Godson gets underway, I’ve been perusing the National Green Pages to find him a safe teething toy. I compiled a list of great toy maker who have been certified by Green America at the gold level, and I'm sharing it with you! But first, here are two examples of what makes all of our member businesses so great when it comes to toys.

North Star Toys: Since 1979, Tim and Connie have been designing and making all of the toys they sell at North Star Toys. Every toy is nontoxic and safe for children and the environment. They use a food-grade mineral oil for the finish on each toy, and all paints are certified nontoxic. You can read our full article on North Star Toys here.

Hazelnut Kids: Hazelnut Kids creates sustainable toys free of toxins. "Besides the fact that we only carry “green” toys, we strive to make every step in the retail process as sustainable as possible," says Tracy Coe, owner of the company. You can read our full interview with Tracy here.

Green Toy Prize Drawing!

Comment below for a chance to win one of two prizes!

1. DIY Chewing Gum Kit from Glee Gum. The ingredients include sustainably harvested chicle, and GMO-free ingredients like Fair Trade certified sugar. Glee Gum is certified by Green America at the gold level.


2. Color-it-yourself schoolhouse made by the Imagination Box Co. and sold by Wild Dill, an online retailer that sells organic and Fair Trade toys, clothing, and bedding for children.


Congratulations to Mariana, the winner of last week's Green Your Holidays prize drawing. She won a Fair Trade gift basket from Higher Grounds Trading Co., featuring a bottle of Fair Trade olive oil, a bag of Fair Trade coffee, and a Theo Chocolate Fair Trade cherry and almond chocolate bar.

Finally, here is that list I promised you:

Terra Experience -- hand-woven, ethnic doll clothes that fit American Girl Dolls.

Naturally Playful -- fair trade and organic toys for tots and kids

Twig Living -- toys for ages 0 - 15, including games and arts & crafts.

Nature's Crib -- wooden baby rattles and teething rings

Eco Toy Town -- non-toxic teethers, toys, board games, and arts & crafts

Global Goods Partners -- fair trade knitted toys, booties and purses

Global Green Pals -- environmental-themed dolls like "Carbon-Offset Chet" and "Clean Air Kate"

Just Goods -- wooden toys and blocks

Maple Landmark Woodcraft -- wooden toys, games and gifts made in the USA

Organic Baby Gift Boutique -- costumes, art supplies, and organic toys

Organic Keiki -- organic and non-toxic toys

Peapods -- toys for babies and kids

Sarah's Silks -- silk toys for babies and kids

Taraluna -- fair trade and organic toys for kids. Includes organic teething toys for little ones, and games for older kids.

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