Reports in the last year of toys tainted with lead paint have sparked outcry from parents and consumer groups who are demanding toxic-free toys for children. Aside from lead paint, many children’s toys often contain the plastic polyvinyl chloride, which can contain phthalates, chemical compounds that have been accused of causing cancer and hormonal disturbances but also make plastic more flexible. The verdict is still out on these chemicals, but the good news is that there are toys that bypass these potentially harmful chemicals completely.
Branch, a San Francisco-based sustainable design company, makes children’s toys out of natural wool and bamboo. Their products are hand-knitted by women who belong to a collective in rural Kenya that is connected to the East Africa Hub, a non-profit organization of socially responsible businesses. Nest and ChildTrek are similar companies offering natural toys made out of wood and other sustainable materials. ChildTrek even offers a blog and a parents’ resource on their website. Another company, Like-A-Bike, manufactures sustainable, plastic-free bikes made from birch plywood. Sensing the growing consumer demand, even Toys ‘R’ Us has “gone green,” launching a new line of natural wood toys and dolls.
Other green toys promote educational goals. Thames and Kosmos provides kits about alternative energy and environmental science. For young engineers-in-training, Gibson Tech Ed sports a build-it-yourself solar car, demonstrating solar energy in action. A complete line of solar toys is also available from Select Solar, a UK-based company.
Another way to green your child’s toys without buying new ones is to recycle them. Plenty of charities collect used toys for re-use, while eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle connect toy seekers with toy givers. Toy sharing is also an emerging concept. The Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, an indoor playspace for children, allows parents to borrow toys for home use. Alternatively, buying toys from local manufacturers can cut down on the distance a toy travels to a child, and by extension its emissions from transport. Local toys are also usually handmade, reducing concerns about toxins or unsafe materials.
The most eco-friendly toy of all remains Mother Nature herself, who offers a carbon neutral, emission-free playground. Planting a tree with a child or taking a walk on a trail in the woods are great ways for children to learn about and enjoy the outdoors—and these activities don’t have to cost a penny.
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