The number one concern when buying toys is toxic chemicals. Many plastic toys are made from PVC (marked as #3 on the object), or polyvinyl chloride. PVC contaminates our air and water with potent toxins, like dioxins, throughout its lifecycle (that is, from production to disposal). Teethers, squeeze toys, beach balls, bath toys, and dolls are among the most common toys made from PVC.
Phthalates, used in many plastic toys, also pose risks to the environment and a child's health. Baby toys, such as bath books, rubber ducks, and teething rings, often contain diisononyl phthalate (DINP), a plasticizer commonly used in soft vinyl products made for babies. Another phthalate, Bisphenol A (BPA), is often used in shatter-resistant baby bottles. Dibutyl phthalates and other toxic chemicals are found in play cosmetics, like nail polish. All of these chemicals have been found to disrupt hormones and development, and have been linked to cancer.
Another chemical commonly found in toys is lead. Toy jewelry can contain high levels of lead, which can cause developmental delays or even death. Since 2004, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, has recalled more than 150 million pieces of children’s jewelry because it contained dangerous levels of lead.
Electronic toys also pose some menacing environmental problems. The production of microchips used in Gameboys and many other powered toys requires an enormous amount of toxic resources. To make about 240 microchips, it takes 3,200 cubic feet of bulk gases, 2,275 gallons of deionized water, 20 pounds of chemicals, and 285 kilowatt hours of electrical power. Producing micochips also creates a substantial amount of hazardous waste, including 2,840 gallons of waste water and seven pounds of miscellaneous hazardous wastes. Disposing of video games can also be an environmental hazard, when chemicals from their circuit boards-such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and brominated fire retardants—leach into the soil at garbage sites.
Some companies have begun manufacturing toys made from recycled materials, such as building logs made from plastic drink containers. Each pound of these logs keeps at least 10 milk jugs out of landfills. Bicycles featuring parts made from aluminum cans, industrial aluminum scrap, plastic containers, and reused steel frame have also hit the market.
Sustainable playtime alternatives
Its not simply the dangerous chemicals in plastics that are cause for concern, plastic is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Toys made from natural cloth, wood and rubber, and toys that use vegetable dyes are safer and more environmentally friendly. When purchasing cloth toys, organic cotton or hemp are the most environmentally sound. Conventional cotton is heavily treated with insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which pollute groundwater and the oceans. Cotton accounts for one-quarter of the insecticides used in the world.
With wooden toys, consider the origins of the wood, as it may have been harvested by clear cutting environmentally sensitive areas, causing deforestation and leading to erosion, run-off pollution in waterways and global warming. Toys made from wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as coming from sustainably managed forests is available as a green alternative, as are toys made from bamboo, which does not contribute to deforestation and is harvested and processed by a low energy process that creates little to no emissions. Some companies carry items made from reclaimed wood. Books made from recycled paper reduce deforestation and habitat destruction. Eighty percent of the earth’s original ancient forests have already been destroyed or damaged, and the rest are threatened by illegal and destructive logging, often for use by the paper industry.
Related health issues
Toxic chemicals in toys can pose serious health threats. Because children are less able to process chemicals than adults, they are especially sensitive to toxins. PVC plastic, used in many children's toys, creates dioxins, which are known carcinogens. Phthalates, widely used in plastic toys to make them soft and flexible, can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system, particularly the developing testes, according to animal studies.
BPA, a chemical building block used to make polycarbonate plastic used in many toys, has been linked to hormone disruption in rats, to increased breast cancer and prostate cancer cell growth, to early onset puberty, and obesity. Metal toys, especially play jewelry, may contain lead, a highly potent neurotoxin that can cause lowered IQ, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems.
Seven out of the top 15 pesticides used on conventional cotton crops in the U.S. have been identified as human carcinogens by the EPA, potentially affecting cloth children's toys. The dyes and treatments used on the outside and stuffing of cloth toys may also be carcinogenic.
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC): A strong plastic polymer that can be made flexible through the use of plasticizers. These plasticizers, not the PVC itself, can be toxic and carcinogenic. However, the monomer used to make PVC, vinyl chloride, is carcinogenic, posing a serious health threat to the people who work at factories where PVC is created. PVC is often used to make teethers, bath toys and other toys that young children play with, and often place in their mouths.
- dioxins: Dioxins are extremely persistent chemical compounds that are created inadvertently by human activities like incineration and fuel combustion. Dioxins break down slowly so they persist in the environment for many years. Exposure to dioxins may cause adverse health effects, such as cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, and skin disease.
- phthalates: Phthalates are additives that are widely used in plastics and other materials, mainly to make them soft and flexible. They have applications in industry, in medicine and in consumer products. There is public concern about phthalates because of their widespread use and occurrence in the environment. Phthalates can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system, particularly the developing testes, according to animal studies.
- diisononyl phthalates (DINP): DINP is a mixture of isomers, about 95 percent of which is used in PVC as a plasticiser. The US Environmental Protection Agency has found "sufficient evidence that chemicals in the DINP category can reasonably be anticipated to cause cancer or other serious or irreversible chronic liver, kidney, or developmental toxicity in humans."
- Bisphenol A (BPA): Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical building block used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Studies have linked BPA to hormone disruption, increased breast and prostate cancer cell growth, and early onset puberty and obesity.
- dibutyl phthalates: A commonly used plasticizer (a chemical added to plastic to make it more flexible), also found in cosmetics like nail polish. There is public concern about phthalates because of their widespread use and occurrence in the environment.> Phthalates can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system, particularly the developing testes, according to animal studies.
- Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Children's Health Environmental Coalition - Toxic Toys? No Thank You!]
- Forest Stewardship Council
- Federal Citizen Information Center - Fun Play, Safe Play
- The Green Guide - Product Report: Toys
- AlterNet - The Battle To Ban Toxic Toys
- US PIRG - Tips For Toy Safety
- US PIRG - Trouble in Toyland: 21st Annual Toy Safety Survey
- The Green Guide - Product Report, Toys
- BNET Research Center - Making spirits bright - environmentally-friendly toys
- Low Impact Living - Green Kids are Happy Healthy Kids
- BBC - Deforestation and the Greenhouse Effect
- Building For Health - Bamboo Chairs
- BNET Research Center - Green Toys For A Greener Planet
- Baby Zone - Eco-Friendly Nursery Basics
- The Green Guide - Product Report,Toys
- Health Care Without Harm - Phthalates/DEHP
- The Green Guide - Product Report, Toys