In the penultimate week of our course on How to Build an Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic nursery, I talk about clothing and toys for newborns. While it’s pretty easy to find adorable products for babies, finding clothes and toys that are eco-friendly and non-toxic is a bit trickier. One of the things I cover in this week of the course is eco-friendly toy materials. Here’s a sneak peek at that content.
Note: if you’re expecting a new baby and want eco-friendly tips, be sure to check out our new course.
What to watch out for when buying baby toys
In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is in charge of regulating toy safety and has helped push manufacturers to remove certain phthalates from toys, reduced the risk of lead exposure, and helped eliminate the use of certain flame retardants from toys.
Despite this good work though, toxic toys can still sneak onto the shelves in the US. How? Well, only a handful of phthalates are banned under CPSC regulations, so toys that comply with CPSC phthalate regulations may still contain phthalates.
Similarly, toys can comply with CPSC rules and still contain:
- Hormone-disrupting bisphenol-A (BPA)
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- Toxic azo dyes
- Heavy metals such as lead
Also, not all parts of toys have to be tested. This means that while most of a toy might meet the rules, certain components could still pose a high risk of toxic chemical exposure, particularly if the toy becomes broken or is used in an unintended fashion.
Finally, toxic toys can end up on store shelves by way of import. This is because toys made outside the US are not regulated in the same way as toys made in the US. Most toys are still made in China, for instance, where the use of polybrominated fire retardants (PBDEs) continues to be widespread. These chemicals are banned for most uses in Europe and Canada, and the US no longer allows the production of PBDEs.
If you are buying a toy not made in the US, Europe, or Canada, look for third-party testing or other credible guarantee that the finished product is free from toxic chemicals.
How to choose safe, eco-friendly toys for babies
Put simply, the safest, most responsibly made, eco-friendly toys are those that:
- Use natural materials that are sustainably sourced
- Use organic materials
- Are made with safe, natural dyes and stains
- Contain no phthalates
- Contain no BPA
- Are free from PVC components
- Are free from heavy metals such as lead
- Are not treated with flame retardants, antibacterial coatings, or other chemicals
Why do these things matter? I discuss the dangers of lead, PBDEs, azo dyes, and PVC in the Nursery course, along with the risks associated with phthalates (also found in dog toys!). In short, buying toys free from these chemicals is better for the health of your baby and the environment they are inheriting.
What does this mean practically, though? What are the safest materials for baby toys?
In general, plastic is not on the list of safe toy materials. If you do buy plastic toys, check that they are totally phthalate-free (not just ‘phthalate-safe’) and, ideally, made with recycled plastic and non-toxic food-source dyes. That way, the environmental impact of the toy is also minimized along with the safety risk. Green Toys are a great company making exactly this kind of toy from recycled milk jugs and yogurt containers!
The best materials for toys, however, are as follows:
- Natural rubber
- Stainless steel
- Organic cotton and hemp
I cover all these materials in the course and offer product recommendations for each category (with discounts from select partners!). You can also check out a roundup of the best eco-friendly, non-toxic toys for newborns here.