Millions of children’s toys have been recalled in recent years to head off hazards from lead content, possible choking and other personal safety issues, thanks to supervision by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But none are monitored for their environmental impact, which opens another can of worms.
Action figures and dolls are often made from PVC, the worst polluting plastic, and their packaging often quadruples the size of a toy’s environmental footprint, typically ending up in a landfill. Teddy bears are often stuffed with synthetic, petroleum-based fillers and pesticide-heavy cotton. Other toys, including stuffed animals, are sprayed with brominated fire retardants; the kind that turn up in breast milk. Even some wooden toys may be coated with varnishes and paints that are high in air-polluting volatile organic compounds (VOC).
To combat this troubling trend, look for all-natural stuffed animals made with organic fibers, wool batting, recycled sweaters or even tofu; search out toys that have shifted to PVC- and phthalate-free plastics; and use beeswax instead of synthetic clay and colored play dough for craft projects.
It’s best to purchase toys from local manufacturers that can certify they follow U.S. environmental, health and safety regulations and use minimal packaging. Favor wooden toys that are finished with nontoxic, natural oil or beeswax or not finished at all. Sources include local guild shops, craft stores and galleries that carry handcrafted toys made by artisans in the community, using proper safety criteria.