A Guide to Eco Toys

Why and How to Select Natural, Organic Toys

Babies and children play with toys to stimulate learning and awareness of their environment. What you don’t want from this playtime are toxins and dangerous materials that can negatively harm their health. Unfortunately conventional toys are made with numerous hazardous chemicals that can harm your child. This guide will touch upon the various articles found in Ecolife's Toy section. 


Facts about chemicals used in toys

Unfortunately, many of the chemicals used in conventional toys are less than safe and certainly not eco-friendly. Check out these facts:

  • Bisphenol-A (BPA) is added to rigid #7 plastics and has been known to damage cells in breasts, uteruses, and prostate, and can increase developmental disorders (such as ADHD) and nervous system problems.[1] It has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes.[2]
  • Dioxins, which are created when making #3 PVC plastic toys, are considered some of the most toxic poisons known to humans, and can harm our neurological, reproductive, developmental, and hormonal systems.[3] They are persistent in the environment and can be found in our food and breastmilk.[4]
  • Non-organic cotton is the most pesticide intense crop in the world and uses the fourth most fertilizers as well.[5] It also requires enormous volumes of water to grow, process, and dye—more than 400 gallons for a single cotton T-shirt.[6] And then hazardous chemicals and dyes (made with heavy metals) are applied to finish the product.[7]
  • Phthalates  are chemicals added to baby toys to make them flexible. They can also be found in wood finishes and adhesives. They have been linked to numerous health problems, including cancer, endocrine disruption, development delays, and reproductive system damage.[8]
  • Synthetic dyes can contain heavy metals, acids, and other toxic components.[9][10]

So when looking for eco-friendly baby toys, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does my child really need this toy?
  • Is this toy made with materials that will preserve my baby’s health rather than harm it?
  • Are the materials used to make this toy renewable, recyclable, and/or biodegradable?
  • Has this toy been made by people working in fair industrial conditions?

If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, consider looking for better baby toys, such as those described in this eco baby toy guide.


Wooden toys

Bring a touch of natural simplicity to your child’s playtime with some beautiful, natural wooden toys. In terms of resources and end-of-life care, wood is a very eco-friendly toy choice since it’s a renewable resource and biodegradable. But you can make them even more safe and green for your baby by choosing wooden toys with some extra eco features:

  • Choose wooden toys made from FSC-certified woods
  • Look for options that are finished without paints or stains
  • Seek out wooden toys made with natural wood finishes like beeswax or linseed oil
  • Check labels on painted wooden toys to ensure they’re made with natural, water-based options
  • Avoid pressed woods that are made with off-gassing glues and formaldehyde; choose solid wooden toys instead

Read on about this subject in our wooden toys article. 


Organic toys

Another option for fun and safe eco-friendly baby toys are those made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and wool. These are equally renewable and biodegradable, and when made with safe plant-based dyes, they’ll be sure to delight and inspire your baby throughout many enjoyable playtimes. Learn more by reading our organic toys article.


Second hand toys

Regardless of your purchasing choice, secondhand is one of the most eco-friendly things you can do when buying nothing is out of the question. The benefits of buying used are numerous:

  • Requires no new natural resources
  • Results in fewer transportation emissions (you’re buying locally!)
  • Reduces need for landfills
  • Saves energy, water, and chemicals
  • It’s fair trade!

Check out our article on buying used kids toys for ideas on where to get them and what characteristics to look for in a safe used toy for your little one.


Safe plastic baby toys

There are many dangers to buying conventional plastic toys for your child. Sure, they’re easier to clean and some of them are recyclable, but they can be made with chemicals and materials that are dangerous for your baby. To ensure that you purchase safer plastic, eco baby toys, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid PVC (#3 plastics) that are made with phthalates and result in the production of dangerous dioxins.
  • Stay away from toys made with bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical added to #7 plastics.
  • Look for plastic toys made from recycled materials to green-up your selection.

Check out Ecolife's "How to Avoid Toxic Plastic Toys" article for more information on this subject. 


Fair trade and ethical toys

Regardless of the material you choose for your kid’s toys, look for those that are made by people who are paid fair wages and given safe, equitable working conditions. Like many consumer market systems, the one that supports the toy industry isn’t always fair or ethical. Children are forced to work alongside their mothers in unsafe conditions with toxic chemicals and dangerous machines. And when their day is done, they aren’t afforded equitable wages or health benefits. So look for labels such as those from Fairtrade International or Global Exchange to ensure your child’s playtime doesn’t come at the expense of another child’s playtime. Read on about fair trade toys.



Educational toys

The perfect toys are made with eco-friendly materials, but stimulating play that educates kids about the importance of sustainable living is also important. You can find all kinds of toys games, and inspirational gifts for kids at the following vendors:



1 Check the Kind of Plastics You Use. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2010, from Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units: http://www.aoec.org/PEHSU/documents/bpa_patient_july_8_08.pdf

2 Szabo, L. (2008, September 16). FDA backs BPA as study links it to heart disease, diabetes. Retrieved April 25, 2010, from USA TODAY: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-09-16-bpa-heart_N.htm

3 Chemical Encyclopedia - dioxins. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2010, from Healthy Child Healthy World: http://healthychild.org/issues/chemical-pop/dioxins/

4 Dioxin: A Poisonous Byproduct. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2010, from Health Care Without Harm: http://www.noharm.org/seasia/issues/toxins/pvc_phthalates/dioxin.php

57 Cotton and the Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from Organic Trade Association: http://www.ota.com/organic/environment/cotton_environment.html

6 Hydrology Primer. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from USGS: http://ca.water.usgs.gov/hydroprimer.html

8 Chemical Encyclopedia - phthalates. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2010, from Healthy Child Healthy World: http://healthychild.org/issues/chemical-pop/phthalates/

9 Natural "Green" Dyes for the Textile Industry. (2003). Retrieved April 12, 2010, from TURI - Toxics Use Reduction Institute: http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/market-research-industry-reports/natural-green-dyes-for-the-textile-industry/natural-green-dyes-for-the-textile-industry1.asp

10 Dyes and chemicals in textile finishing: An introduction. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2010, from Health and Safety Executive: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/tis1.htm#4

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