How to Go Green: Kids' Toys

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It's a little cliché but true nonetheless, your children and your children's children will inherit the world that we create today. So, the stuff we give them shouldn't make life any harder on them in the future. If that alone isn't enough, how about the fact that your child will, more likely than not, chew everything edible and non-edible in his/her sight. Now there's motivation to make sure your child's playthings are green and healthy! Here we'll give you the scoop on how to find more sustainable and less toxic toys for your little TreeHugger so you can do good for your child and the environment.

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Top Green Kids' Toys Tips

  1. Look for PVC-free
    PVC (aka polyvinyl chloride) seems to be everywhere we look. Some beach toys, teethers, dolls, and even (gasp!) rubber duckies are cheaply manufactured with the environmentally dubious material. A dioxin-producing powerhouse, PVC releases toxins into the environment all the way through its lifecycle from manufacturing to disposal. Many PVC toys also contain phthalates, chemical compounds that make the PVC plastic more flexible, which initial studies have linked to both cancer and hormonal disruption. Although the long-term effects of phalates on youngsters is not fully known, we fully subscribe to the idea of an ounce of prevention now over a potential pound of cure later.

  2. Wood is good
    Look for FSC-certified wood to find sustainable toys that will last generations longer than the cheap plastic stuff. For the little ones, untreated, unpainted wood is safe to chew unlike plastics that contain PVC. When your child is done, wooden toys can be passed on to a relative, friend, or even sold on eBay or Craigslist to give it a second life. The FSC certification is important, it ensures that the wood you buy has been forested responsibly, allowing for sustainable growth.

  3. Power down

    Batteries have become second nature in most toys today. Not only is this a terrible problem when these toys get disposed of, who wants to give their child the opportunity to chew on a battery? For the young ones, decide if all the battery-powered noise is worth it. Could your child stay just as entertained with a simpler toy, one that might even let you keep your sanity. For the older ones that absolutely must have the newest electronics, look into rechargeable batteries to eliminate waste. For more, see How to Green Your Electronics.

  4. The great outdoors
    The most rewarding toy might not be a toy at all. It might be the act of planting a tree or a vegetable garden. Want a truly carbon neutral activity for your kids? Play tag or hide and seek. Getting your wee ones outside provides them with abundant opportunities to run around, have fun, get exercise, and learn about the urban and natural environments around them. You probably remember time spent outside with family and friends in your youth...your kids will too.

  5. Second-hand magic
    Just because a toy has been used once doesn't mean that it can't be just as much fun the second time around. Check out eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, yard sales, or your local classifieds for perfectly good toys than have simply been outgrown. And, don't forget that you can always give that same toy a third life (and recoup some of the cost) by putting it up for sale right where you found it.

  6. Get organic
    There are more pesticides and fertilizers sprayed onto conventional fibers than you might care to know about. Not only does the thought of chemically treated fabric probably raise a red flag when you think of your child, it raises a huge red flag for the environment as well. The chemicals we use to "improve" our crops often contaminate the soil they grow in and the air and water systems around it. Look for organic and naturally-dyed cotton, bamboo, tencel, and wool for toys such as stuffed animals. For more, see How to Green Your Baby.

  7. Sometimes it's not what's in the box...
    It is the box. Sometimes it is the stuff you already have that can prove the most fun to imaginative children. So, next time you think about throwing the box from that new toy away, think of it as a potential arts and crafts project instead.

  8. Non-toxic paints

    It's not just the paint on your walls that you should think about. The paint on your child's toys may also have VOCs (volatile organic compounds). There are a slew of new toys that use water-based and low-VOC or no-VOC paints (and nearly all of them will advertise this fact). This way a non-toxic toy gets the non-toxic paint job it deserves.

  9. Lasting toys
    When purchasing new toys, keep the toy's potential longevity on your mind. A long-lasting toy not only means that you won't have to buy another one in a matter of months, it also means that when the toy is no longer in use, you can always pass it along. More money for you + keeping materials out of the landfill = easy decision.

  10. The color purple
    Subtitled: Everything on this list can't have a cheesy "green" pun. But seriously, what better way to go green than with the color itself. Craft projects give your kids an opportunity to use their imagination. Find non-toxic paints and crayons and let the kids loose on all sorts of recycled material from cardboard boxes to junk mail to items they find in the woods. Pet rock, here we come.

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Green Kids Toys: By The Numbers

  • 5 billion: The number of batteries Americans purchase each year.

  • 146,000: Tons of battery waste those 5 billion batteries leave behind each year.

  • 25 percent: the percentage of total pesticide production each year that is used on conventional cotton crops.

  • 6: The number of phthalate plasticizers banned from children's toys by the European Union in 1999. This legislation became mandatory in 2006.

Sources: Children's Health Environmental Coalition, EcoChoices.

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Green Kids Toys: Getting Techie

a family of chemical compounds often put into polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in order to make it more flexible. Some common phthalate compounds include DEHP, DINP, and DBP. In addition to their use in PVC, phthalates are also sometimes used in nail polish, adhesives, and cosmetics among other things. Some initial studies have shown that high-doses of phthalates can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and reproductive systems. DEHP, in particular, has been termed a "probabl human carcinogen" by the US.. EPA. The long-term effects of phthalates in frequent smaller doses, the way in which we usually interact with them, is unknown at this time.

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Where To Get Green Kids' Toys

3R Living
Gibson Tech Ed
Select Solar
Thames and Kosmos
Think Button
Under the Nile
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Green Kids Toys: From The Archives

Dig deeper into these articles on kids toys from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

Check out these tips to find battery-free toys for your kids.

A key step to greening your home is simply buy fewer toys.

Renting toys for your kids is a good way to go green, and have fun with playing with your kids.

Too many unused toys around? You can "re-goody" them to other kids who might enjoy them.

LikeaBike gets the 2-5 year-old set bicycle-ready.

Wood rocking horses last longer and are potentially less harmful than plastic ones (and better looking too!).

Here's a puzzle made with sustainably harvested maple wood and non-toxic paints.

Natural wool is making its way into quite a few toys: Natural wool finger puppets from Branch and a natural wood octopus made in Kenya.

HappyMais is a new toy that features a natural GM-free corn starch material that is totally biodegradable, and from non-toxic compostable food colourings.

This toy lemur is made from fibers produced from the waste of tofu production.

Get them started on solar with this build-it-yourself toy car.

Make veggies cool, try these organic cotton hand knit varieties.

Nest makes a host of cool, sustainable kids toys and furniture.

Imaginarium toys teach kids about gardening and renewable energy.

Jess Hutchinson not only makes quirky and beautiful stuffed toys, but offers patterns for do-it-yourselfers.

Select Solar offers solar-powered toys that hop, glow, and roll.

Check out the crafty, eco-friendly winners of the Soft Toy awards.

Netto toys and kids' furniture from Finland use sustainable wood and natural (forgive the pun) finishes.

Indian toy master Arvind Gupta demonstrates countless ways to make trash into toys.

miYim stuffed toys sport snuggly organic cotton skin.

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Further Reading on Green Kids Toys

Read up on green kids toys in these other worthwhile sources.
Ideal Bite's take on green gifts for kids

The Lazy Environmentalist radio program tackles to the toy issue.

Children's Environmental Health Network
Healthy Child Healthy World

Greenpeace has a number of studies on toxicity and children's toys. The report, "Cleaning up our Chemical Homes", investigates individual toy companies and ranks them.

How to Go Green: Kids' Toys
It's a little cliché but true nonetheless, your children and your children's children will inherit the world that we create today. So, the stuff we give them shouldn't make life any harder on them in the future. If that alone isn't enough, how about

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