As a parent, you’re probably familiar with what the typical playchest looks like: full. of. plastic. Unfortunately, while plastic is certainly convenient, plastic poses risks both to the environment and your child’s health.
This guide will discuss current progress in the world of sustainable, non-toxic toys, and will walk you through how to pick toys that are safe for the Earth and human health.
As you may have gathered by now, our reliance on plastic is one of the main problems with toys today. Not only is plastic extremely carbon-intensive, as it’s made from fossil fuels, but it also can contain harmful chemicals.
Unfortunately, a whopping 90% of toys on the market today are made from plastic. This reliance on plastic has severe environmental impacts, ranging from contributions to global warming to creating large amounts of plastic waste. For example, plastic often breaks down into microplastics that litter our land and oceans. Finally, when plastic toys end up in landfills, they can break down and leach chemicals into the air, soil, and water. Not only does this harm ecosystems, but it can also cause exposure to these chemicals through our food and drinking water.
Many plastic toys contain dangerous chemicals or heavy metals such as cadmium and lead. For example, some toys contain phthalates, a class of hormone-disrupting chemicals used to soften plastics. While some countries like the US and the EU have begun regulating the use of phthalates in toys, many toys do not undergo appropriate toy safety testing and may still contain the chemical. While exposure to dangerous chemicals in plastic toys is fairly low, the risk goes up if the toy is broken or your child chews on it.
Luckily, many of the innovations that make toys sustainable also make them safer for humans.
The materials a toy is made of are the biggest indicators of both sustainability and safety. We’ll tackle safety first. As mentioned above, many toys are manufactured with dangerous chemicals. Instead of buying plastic toys, consider buying toys made from non-toxic materials like stainless steel, which is 100% non-toxic. In fact, most of us put stainless steel into our mouths every day in the form of silverware.
Other non-toxic materials for toys include unpainted wood, natural rubber, or toys made with wood that use natural, non-toxic sealants and dyes.
Sustainable toys employ many of the same materials as non-toxic toys. After all, if it’s toxic to humans, it’s often toxic to the environment as well. Luckily, avoiding plastic and other unsustainable materials is getting easier every day, as many toy companies are beginning to produce toys from new materials. For example, researchers are working on 3D-printing toys made from beetroot puree, a material that is not only healthier for children, but also has a much lower carbon footprint.
Other more sustainable materials to look out for include:
- Stainless steel, like Kleynimals toys, which are 100% recyclable and made from around 50% recycled materials
- Other natural fibers
One of the main ways to make sure a toy is safe for your child is to make sure it’s being used as intended. Some toys can become dangerous when they’re taken apart, as this can cause choking hazards or exposure to toxic chemicals in toys. Some electronic toys may overheat. Make sure to read the instructions on any more complicated toys you buy to make sure your kid can play with it safely. It’s also important to monitor play, especially with toys with small parts or electronic toys.
Your best bet, of course, is to simply use toys that are simple and non-toxic in every situation. For example, especially with babies and toddlers, there’s a strong chance that a toy will end up in their mouth whether it was meant to or not! Pick the safe option of simply buying a toy that is mouth-safe.
Finally, part of “proper use” is proper disposal when you’re done with the toy. First, you can always donate the toy to your local thrift shop. If the toy is beyond the point of usefulness, however, consider recycling it. Before chucking the toy in the trash, where it may end up leaching toxic chemicals from the landfill into our environment, check to see if the toy can be recycled. Many plastics and metals can be recycled, and some toys, like toys made of wood, might even be compostable!
As we discussed above, the best way to ensure your toys are safe is to buy toys made from safe materials. If you’re ever unsure, though, consider buying from manufacturers that adhere to strict toy safety testing procedures. This not only helps ensure the toy doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, but it also ensures that the toy is functional and safe to play with.
Some toys may also have sustainable certifications. For example, toys made from cotton may be GOTS certified, meaning they’re fully organic (which also means no toxic pesticides!). Another label to look out for is fair trade certification, which certifies that the toy was produced under ethical and sustainable conditions.
Let’s face it – most kids are not exactly gentle with their toys. In fact, you can almost bet on toys ending up on the floor at least once, if not all the time! The best way to practice sustainability is to buy durable toys that you won’t need to replace every time they break. This helps reduce the need for more production of plastic, which helps limit the energy and emissions necessary to manufacture new toys.
Buying durable toys is also a smart measure to take in order to avoid small pieces breaking off and posing a choking risk.
Kleynimals toys are made entirely from stainless steel, so your child can truly put the toy through its paces without breaking it. And if (when!) the toy does get dropped, you can simply rub out any rough spots with a nail file to make it look brand new again!