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Published on December 18th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Eco Toys for Tots

As a parent committed to living more sustainably, you are aware that the toys you choose for your child play an important role in the choices he or she will make later on in life.  Toys that educate children and encourage them to use their imaginations go a long way towards helping children learn to think for themselves and make intelligent decisions in the future.

Since our children inherit the environmental and economic challenges left to them by our present culture, it is imperative that they are equipped with the intellectual and imaginative skills necessary to negotiate life’s later hurdles.


What a child learns from a toy, though essential, is far from the only thing parents must consider when choosing green toys for their children.  Many toys on the market are manufactured with environmentally unsafe materials, and parents should know what these materials are.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a highly toxic plastic used in many cheaply manufactured infant and children’s toys.Educational Toy

  • From the time it is produced, PVC never stops releasing toxins, including dioxin, which studies have linked to learning disabilities and cancer.
  • PVC also releases phthalates—chemical compounds that make PVC plastic softer and more pliable.

These toxic chemicals leach out of the plastic when children suck or chew on the toys that contain them.  Health authorities express grave concern that exposure to PVC plastic may put children at risk for serious and irreparable damage.  When choosing toys, be sure to look for PVC-free alternatives.

What other toxic chemicals might be lurking on your child’s toybox?  VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are commonly found in the paint used on children’s toys, but these days you can find a wide variety of manufacturers that use water-based and low-VOC or no-VOC paints.  You can also avoid exposing your child to the residues of pesticides and fertilizers sprayed onto the fibers many toys are made of–or stuffed with–by choosing products made with:

  • organic unbleached cotton
  • bamboo
  • tencel (an eco-friendly man-made fiber)
  • wool

There are currently no regulations for toy industry products, so it’s best to err on the site of caution and invest in toys made of materials that you know do not contain carcinogenic dyes, toxic flame retardants, and insecticides.


A good eco-toy should be made to last more than a little while.  While more expensive at the outset, wooden toys last much longer than those made of cheap plastic,Wooden Blocks and they’re often much safer for children to put into their mouths.  When scouting for wooden toys, look for FSC-certified wood, which ensures that the wood used to make the toy has been forested responsibly.  When your child outgrows his or her wooden toys and other eco-friendly toys, they can be passed on to relatives or friends.  You may be lucky enough to live in an area where you can join a toy-lending co-op with other parents, or you might start one yourself.  Members of toy-lending co-ops borrow toys from other members for a few weeks at a time.  Families save money and their children are supplied with a vast and perpetual array of safe and educational toys.

Even if you are not part of a toy co-op you can still give your child’s toys a second lease on life.  You can sell them on eBay, Craigslist, or to a children’s consignment shop, or donate them to a charitable organization.  One well-made toy, simply and durably constructed, can bring joy and learning to generations of children.  Toys that come to life with the help of a child’s imaginative powers are, in the long run, easier on the pocketbook—and on the landfill—than toys that require batteries to operate.

Buying locally made toys reduces the amount of fossil fuels required to transport a toy from half way across the globe, and it also enriches your own community—socially and financially.

The popularity of battery-operated toys and games over the last two decades is largely responsible for an upsurge in toxic waste.  It is estimated that Americans purchase approximately 5 billion batteries every year!  Americans’ love for electrical gadgets contributes at least 146,000 tons of battery waste a year, which leaches a significant amount of toxic metals into groundwater.  When you do purchase battery-operated toys for your child, choose rechargeable batteries to help reduce this national waste epidemic.

Choose Local and Fair-Trade Manufactured Toys

Stuffed BearWhen buying toys, look for fair-trade certification that ensures that no child labor labor was involved in production, and that the wage given to the person who made them was a fair one.  A great online resource for finding certified green toys is Co-op America’s National Green Pages, a complete directory of  green businesses in every category of living.  This directory contains a database of safe, non-toxic toys, solar-powered racing cars, and toys that teach about alternative energy. 

Some eco toy options come as kits, which gives you the opportunity to be involved with your child as they are inspired to learn valuable lessons about our planet—and have fun at the same time!  Remember, too, to look for toymakers in your area as an opportunity to support local trade- and craftspeople.  Buying locally made toys reduces the amount of fossil fuels required to transport a toy from half way across the globe, and it also enriches your own community—socially and financially.

Playing Without Toys

Recent research reveals that U.S. children aged 8-18 spend a little over 6 hours per day using electronic media including TV, music, computers, and video games.  Even though this represents a social norm, when buying toys for your children, be mindful that the best toy may be no toy at all:

  • Encourage your children to play outdoors and use their imaginations—the resulting fun will be just as pleasurable for you as for them!
  • Plant a tree or a vegetable garden. Play hide and seek.
  • Get creative and look for opportunities that speak to your child’s interests—it may be reading, playing outside and in nature, engaging in music, art, and other forms of self expression.

This type of play will give them the tools they need to learn what is important to them and to the continued sustainability of the world that is their home.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid 

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