Photo of child playing with toys on a bed, courtesy of Green America

Playing It Safe: Non-Toxic and Sustainable Baby Toys

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Play time’s over.

No, no. It’s just beginning…we just need to get serious about what sort of toys we let the future of our planet hold in their hands (and mouths).

Chemicals are an unfortunate reality in nearly every product category on the market… baby toys included. This is especially concerning given that kids, along with pregnant women, are more sensitive to chemical exposure highlighting the importance of organic baby products.

By filling your toddler’s toy box with non-toxic and organic baby toys, you’re already doing your part to invest in their future health and wellness.


Dangers of Traditional Toys

When people think of toxic baby toys, lead is usually the first thing that comes to mind, despite the fact that it became an (almost) illegal ingredient in paints in 1978.

However, lead is still utilized in other countries (like China) and since the U.S. freely imports many baby toys with little to no regulation, lead is still a very real concern. In 2007, decades after the lead ban, major toy manufacturer Mattel recalled millions of toys for this very issue.

Lead, which builds in the body over time and is absorbed quickly in kids, is associated with nerve damage, learning disabilities, cancer, reproductive issues, ADHD, and damage to the brain, liver, and kidneys.

However, lead is far from the only material parents should be wary of.

Photo of a child playing with a toy truck, courtesy of ParentMap

2008 saw two major steps toward safer children’s toys with the introduction of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and Washington state’s Children’s Safe Product Act.

Respectively, these acts require toymakers to engage third parties to test the safety of all their products and publish (via a searchable database) any “chemicals of high concern” in children’s products.

The Children’s Safe Product Act was a rude awakening for many, demonstrating 66 chemicals commonly found in large percentages of baby products, most of which have seen little or no research investigating the effects of medium to long-term exposure.

Photo of cobalt, courtesy of Winsor & Newton

Cobalt, used in blue dyes, is one of the most common offenders found in baby products like Lego blocks and Gymboree baby bibs. According to the CDC, traces of cobalt were found in the urine of nearly all children tested.

While no studies show the effect of cobalt on humans, rodent and fish studies have correlated cobalt with reproductive issues, cancer, and organ malfunctions due to an accumulation of the element.

That’s just the tip of the top, too. Here are other dangerous substances commonly found in baby toys:

  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): The worst types of plastic (#3) found in teethers, bath toys, and other waterproof children’s toys. It’s filled with chlorine and phthalates.
  • Ethylene Glycol: An Industrial solvent and antifreeze. Gap, Gymboree, and others reported it in baby feeding bibs, dolls, and soft toys.
  • Asbestos: Shockingly not federally banned from toys and is often found in chalk and crayons.
  • Flame retardants: Found to disrupt hormones, cause cancer, and hinder neurodevelopment.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde: Used in paints, stains, and adhesives, known to cause asthma and other lung problems.
  • Arsenic: Leads to neurological and behavioral problems.
  • Metals: Antimony, molybdenum, and cadmium.
  • Others: Chlorine, Triclosan, BPA, phthalates, parabens, nonylphenol, azo dyes, and methyl ethyl ketone.

It’s time we as parents, grandparents, child care providers, and aunts and uncles learn to walk toward safer baby toys.

What Makes for a Safe Baby Toy?

Consumer Products Safety Commission logo for toy safety

Look for certifications and approval by consumer regulatory bodies like the FDA and US Consumer Product Safety Commission Standards (CPSC).

Still, certifications are not bulletproof and there are plenty of loopholes (like foreign-made imports). In fact, the Consumer Products Safety Commission recall database is “reactive” and “complaint-driven” and there are few product safeguards in place before they hit the toy aisle.

It’s best to know some basic rules of thumb in avoiding dangerous baby toys.

Avoid painted toys, sealants (unless plant oil/wax or beeswax), metal toys, #3 and #7 plastic toys, fake jewelry toys (often containing lead well over the legal threshold), and any toy made in China by a brand you cannot reliably trust.

Penguin Wheelie Wooden Baby Toy from Plan Toys on EarthHero

Safe baby toys are also generally eco-friendly baby toys, so the best way to find safe toys is to think in terms of sustainable fabrics and materials. You know the ones: those that are biodegradable and compostable, natural, and chemical-free.

Instead of something that will never fully biodegrade, wood and natural rubber can easily take the place of plastic, vinyl, and metal.

Non-Toxic Wooden Baby Toys

Wooden toys make for some of the best non-toxic baby toys, at least if they don’t contain any VOC varnishes or formaldehyde-filled adhesives.

EverEarth Garden Toddler Activity Center from Ever Earth on EarthHero

Toys like the EverEarth Garden Activity Cube are a perfect example. Remember those from the doctor’s office when you were a kid?

Now imagine one that’s made of FSC-certified wood and covered in chipping paint and the germs of hundreds of sick kids.

Made from sustainably harvested poplar wood, the 3-in-1 Wishbone Design Studio Mini Flip Baby Walker is not just safe but sustainable, thanks to its ability to convert from a rocker to a walker to a ride-on toy.

Pretend Play Contemporary Dollhouse Set from PlanToys on EarthHero

For slightly older kids, the PlanToys Pretend Play Contemporary Dollhouse Set is made with a blend of sustainably harvested Rubberwood and PlanWood. Since the Rubberwood comes from rubber trees that can no longer produce latex and PlanWood is made from surplus rubberwood sawdust and wood chips – zero waste baby goals right!?

Organic Plush Baby Toys

As with other fabric-based baby products like organic baby blankets and organic baby clothes, we want to see organically grown (i.e. chemical-free) natural fabrics, including organic cotton, hemp fabric and linen.

Kozy Koala Plush Toy from Apple Park on EarthHero

The Apple Park Kozy Koala Plush Toy is one such toy. It’s made of a 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton (down to the swallow-proof embroidered buttons) outer and hypoallergenic corn fiberfill.

Alternatively, look for ethical wool or recycled polyester (as in plastic #1, which is BPA-free) for other filling materials.

Other Safe Materials for Baby Toys

Original Beeswax Crayons 12pk from Honey Sticks on EarthHero

Silicone and natural rubber don’t contain BPA, BPS, PVC, lead, or phthalates. And for toys that are often wet (i.e. bath toys and teething toys), it doesn’t support the growth of fungus, mold, or bacteria.

For example, the Kawan Mini Rubber Duck is made from 100% HEVEA tree rubber, and Chewable Charm Hayes Silicone Beaded Teething Ring is 100% FDA-approved and made with high-quality food-grade silicone and organic maple wood that’s been finished with beeswax and coconut oil.

Instead of purchasing the 14% of crayons made in China that contain known carcinogen asbestos, encourage creativity with HoneySticks Beeswax Crayons.


Final Thoughts on Eco Friendly and Non Toxic Baby Toys

We’re huge advocates of anything used and secondhand as that is (almost) always the most sustainable choice, but keep in mind toys, especially hand-me-downs might no longer be safe.

Buying something new, equipped with this knowledge of what to look out for and to avoid, is the most surefire way to give us as parents some playtime peace of mind.

A little extra research for our precious mini-me’s and our precious planet, we think is worth all the effort.

Time Well-Spent

Everything on our site is vetted through our 5-Pillar Sourcing Methodology, and our Community Experience team is always here to help through chat, call, or email.

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