Play Time! Green Living Guide to green toys

by Christina Dawn Morgan

July 25, 2014

A child playing with rubber ducks. Greenpeace has found high levels of phthalates banned by the EU and the US in childrens products and toys made from vinyl plastic (also called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) on the Chinese market. Phthalates are plastic softeners widely added to PVC materials and are linked to hormone malfunctions and toxicity to the reproductive system. The EU and the US have banned six types of phthalates in childrens products and toys, but China currently lacks comparable regulations.

© Yang Di / Greenpeace

Toys have been around for ages, providing the newest generations of our species with amusement, education, and tools for their imaginations enabling the growth of fond memories and dreams to fuel their lives ahead.

But, as our new Executive Director Annie Leonard loves to remind us, every purchase that we make -including toys – comes at a cost. Not just to our pocket books, but to our environment and human lives. So, how do we make sure that the toys we bring into our childrens lives are healthy on these grounds?

Questions to askwhen shopping

(1) Whats this thing made of? It can take a lot of raw materials to produce toys. Were talking tons of plastics, metals, woods, and synthetic materials that must all be extracted (i.e., mined or lumbered) or cooked-up to produce most popular toys on the market. These processes destroy forests and poison waterways, pollute air and produce toxins at all levels of production often in non-U.S. nations being exploited for their resources.

The packaging of famous toys is no exception. In fact, Greenpeace has exposed toy giants like Disney, Hasbro, Lego, and Mattel for sourcing rainforest woods in the production of their toy packaging, and launched high-profile campaigns against Mattels rainforest destruction in producing Barbie packaging to force them to change the norm. Weve had major victories with Mattel, but deforestation in the production of toy packaging is still an issue worldwide.

(2) Who produced these toys? All too often, the toys that we find on store shelves came at a profound cost to other humans. From the loss of ancient forests and waterways that have supported their families for generations, to child or forced labor, toy production can take a lot out of communities health and wellbeing. Some of the biggest names in toys are regularly called out for wage theft and general abuse of their international employees.

(3) What are these toys teaching children? This could be a blog post within itself. But, something that every parent knows is that childrens minds are sponges. Their play things have a significant role on the sorts of thoughts and projections that they accrue and carry through their lives. What are your childrens toys telling them to do, accept, become, how to think, feel, or treat the world around them?

Finding the good toys

(1) Look for toys that are made out of earth-friendly materials. Were talking certified sustainable woods, recycled plastics, biodegradable materials. As much of the product as possible should assure you that ‘no planet was harmed in the making of this toy.’ Packaging (if any) should always be made out of biodegradable materials or Rainforest Alliance or FSC certified cardboards.

(2) It can be very difficult to find out exactly where our toys are made, although stamps like ‘Made in China’ or ‘Made in Taiwan ‘ can give a general idea. That being said, the best green toys available are Fair Trade or Made in the U.S.A. These certifications generally ensure that fair wages and safe working conditions are standard for toy company employees, and the latter of these also supplies U.S. jobs. 😉

(3) What you want your children to learn is truly a personal choice. Its all about who you want to enable your children to become. Here at Greenpeace, we like to encourage children to feel empowered within who they are as Earthlings, and to grow-up loving Nature and other beings. So, we get upset when companies that are fine with hurting the planet use childrens toys to change their public image for the better (false). That brings us to

Oh, and Legos?

'Save the Arctic' LEGO Scene in SpainLego, the worlds top toymaker famous for producing epic build it yourself toy sets since 1932, a recent blockbuster with Warner Bros and a popular theme song ever (have you seen our parody yet??) – has established itself as a poor messenger for the imaginations of children worldwide. Namely, they have partnered with one of the worlds worst polluters, Shell, in efforts to boost their PR producing flashy toys with the Shell logo all over them so that kids playing with them see Shell as being awesome. The relationship is nothing new for these giants, but whats awful now is that Lego is promoting Shells efforts to drill for Arctic oil using childrens toys. We want to see Lego break-up with Shell and stop polluting childrens imaginations.

Tell LEGO to get Shell out of their toys!

And, for some fun, check out our Protest-o-matic, where you and your family can design messages for use in a global protest against Legos partnership with Shell.

Go Play!

While they should also be environmentally responsible, toys should nurture imaginations and just be FUN! So, go play! Create a new world for play within your home, or get out into the natural world for some great fun. Hopefully you know have some ideas of how you can make play time more green with the youngsters in your life.

Want to learn more? Here are some additional resources about green toys and locating new favorites for the kids in your life!

Chasing Green: Is Your Childs Toy Hurting the Planet, with Earth-Conscious Toy Options

Eartheasy Educational Toys & Games

Huffington Post articles on green toys

A Mother Earth News piece on natural toys & games

The Sustainability Consortiums Toys Sector Working Group

The Green


Imagine Childhood

How toys teach

Build your own toys

Consuming fewer toys: How childrens play-time and development can be excellent with fewer and more natural toys, & how one mother made the swap with her kids.

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