12 Ways to Keep Your Toy Box Safe and Eco-friendly

by Janelle Sorensen

babyToy recalls from reputable brands make headlines almost every day. And, even though recalls are difficult to keep up with, they still only address a limited amount of risks. In fact, there are a wide variety of synthetic chemicals or heavy metals that could be used in your child's toys -- many of which we have limited understanding of potential health and developmental impacts. And, what about the bigger environmental picture of the pollution created when making or disposing of toys? When did playtime become so complicated?

Here are 12 ways you can reclaim the fun and reduce the worries when it comes to playtime. Make your toy box healthier for your child and the planet.

  1. Go au natural. Look for toys made of natural materials like solid woods (with no finish or a non-toxic finish) and organic textiles (cotton, wool, felt, etc).
  2. Simplify. Buying fewer toys is much better for the planet (and your pocketbook!
  3. Re-purpose. Can something you already have be used as a toy? An empty box or set of stainless steel bowls can provide hours of happy play.
  4. Look for items that will last. High quality toys may cost a bit more, but they will last much longer and can be handed down to younger children. Likewise, you’re more apt to get money back out of them if you decide to sell.
  5. Read labels. What's this toy made of? Where does it come from? Get to know a toy before you buy it.
  6. Look for local. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by buying local. If you're looking at global supplies, opt for European, Canadian or Japanese imports as other countries may have lax toy regulations.
  7. Opt for open-ended toys. Look for items that encourage creativity and are capable of being used for many different types of play. Wooden blocks, colorful scarves, smooth stones, and even cardboard boxes can be the foundation for innumerable creative adventures.
  8. Avoid cheap jewelry and kids' cosmetics. Both of these types of dress-up products are high-risk. Cheap jewelry often has high lead levels and kids' cosmetics can have any number of questionable chemicals.
  9. Purge plastics. Okay, this is near impossible these days, but make your best effort. If you do buy plastic, look for safer plastics like those labeled #1, 2, 4, or 5 in the chasing arrows symbol usually found on the bottom of the product. Not labeled? Call the manufacturer.
  10. Text for Healthy Toys. HealthyToys.org is a database to help you find safer toys. You can even access it from your mobile phone. Just text key words and you'll receive information immediately regarding any testing that's been done.
  11. Print a pocket guide. Download the Healthy Toys Pocket Shopping Guide so you always have tips and safer toy recommendations on hand.
  12. Sign-up for recall alerts. The Consumer Product Safety Commission posts recalls online, as does the website recalls.gov. If a toy you own is recalled, take it away immediately and follow the company's instructions on how to get a safe replacement.

Bonus tip: Have fun! Play time isn't about what you have, it's about what you do. Get down and dirty with your kids. Laugh and simply enjoy spending time together.

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