You probably never thought your living room would become a giant playroom filled with kids stuff, but somehow it is. Of course you want your kid's toys to be educational, fun, and developmentally appropriate toys, but sometimes you just want them to be entertained so you can enjoy your cup of coffee.
When you bring toys into your home, you want to make sure they are safe and non-toxic, especially because your kid is going to be chewing and licking everything at some point. And with the history of toxic toy recalls and research showing that chemicals being used in products have detrimental developmental effects, you want to err on the side of safety (1, 2, 3). Even if your kid isn't obsessed with putting every object in their mouth, they are touching them and the particles that escape from from toys can contribute to dust in the home. This is something to be cautious about because kids breathe in more air comparatively than full grown humans (4). The toxics in the dust also matter more for babies because childhood is a time where so much changes and grows so quickly. While we are just trying to catch up on the latest episode of The Bachelor, our kid's brains are working on doubling in size.
It's impossible to understand the environmental impact of each toy. You would have to study the materials, manufacturing processes, labor and industrial processes and transportation...etc. Ain't nobody got time for that. So, instead we have some easy to remember tips and recommendations. When you are looking for toys, try to look for as many natural materials as possible and buy from reputable toy companies. Look at our roundup of safe and healthy toy brands for some ideas.
Wood toys are timeless, durable, and versatile. They also encourage imagination. When picking out wood toys, look for ones that are unfinished and just sanded, finished with beeswax and food safe oils, stained with dyes, or painted with a water-based paint. Be wary of paint that is chipping and make sure the brand is serious about making sure their paints are safe.
For soft toys, choose natural fibers like wool and cotton or toys that can be easily washed and dried. The majority of stuffies made today are filled with polyester fibers, which is a naturally flame retardant material, so they are unlikely to be sprayed with flame retardants, which is a huge plus in our book. But, remember that polyester is a petroleum product that is nonrenewable and will never break down. Some brands are making toys with recycled polyester, which some scientists argue are more environmentally friendly than cotton. (5) With all of these factors in mind, our advice is to be selective about stuffies and go for quality over quantity.
Natural rubber products (especially those processed to exclude the latex-like nitrosamine proteins) are healthy option for babies and toddlers, too. There are rubber duckies and other bath toys and teethers in a variety of animal shapes made from natural latex.
But let's face it, plastic toys are sort of unavoidable. So, if you are picking out or receiving plastic toys, try for the following: #2, #4, #5 plastics which are considered safer and don't leach harmful chemicals. When you can, limit plastic toys that have electronic components because they are commonly treated with flame retardants (so they don't accidentally catch on fire). Just another reason to opt for simple toys. Simple toys are also a great way to help your kid strengthen their imagination, which can help them with critical thinking skills later in life (6).
One last note: Be wary of vintage or hand me down toys. There have been a lot of regulatory change to what can be in toys, especially after 2008 when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission adopted stricter rules like banning lead and some types of phthalates from children's products (7). Second hand toys have been shown to have high levels of heavy metal, including lead, often because they are older and were created before we had regulations and knew as much as we do now about the dangers of lead paint and coloring (8). Scientists found especially high levels in building blocks, plastic figures, construction toys, games, puzzles and play jewelry. And especially in bright colored pieces such as yellow and red (9).