Eco-Toy Joys
December 2010
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EcoToysSpotting Earth-Friendly Gift Ideas for Kids

If we resist the urge to charge over to the nearest big-box store to load up on the latest plastic marketing ploys, we’ll likely find more satisfaction in picking toys that will create less of an environmental impact—and more of a personal one. It’s easy to look for the following five eco-friendly attributes.

Solar Powered. Nearly any toy with batteries and a motor can operate with simple sun power instead. Solar versions of traditional toys range from racing cars and quivering grasshoppers to bullet trains that kids build from snap-together parts (Google by type of toy). Solar-powered toys teach kids the benefits of renewable energy, which unlike those with batteries, require no additional cost and produce no battery waste.

Built to Last. Many toys today are flimsy, cheaply made and even downright toxic. The organization behind HealthyStuff.org tests thousands of products each year to help families steer clear of the worst toxins in many common toys—including lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury.

High-quality toys don’t have to come from a toy store. Check out yard and tag sales, as well as local craft fairs, for well-constructed toys, from rocking horses and toy chests to bikes, dollhouses and kid collectibles. Or look for new toys made from sustainable materials, like the handmade hardwood sleds, toboggans and wagons made by Mountain Boy Sledworks.

Do-It-Yourself. Craft kits allow a child to make a toy that incorporates his or her own creative vision, all the better when the parts are made of sustainable materials. Artterro offers a collection of eco-friendly craft kits, from jewelry and dolls to garden art and bubble wands. Materials include post-consumer waste paper from India; hand-dyed fabrics, wool felt and glass and wooden beads. The San Francisco Museum of Craft & Design sells a bird cafe that encourages kids to explore nature in their backyards once the craft is complete. Any of these is easily found online, searching by name.

Of course, making our own craft kits can be as easy as cutting spare fabric, adding buttons, beads and other found mementos. Assemble all the pieces in a fun container and let kids’ imaginations fly.

Alternatives to Plastic. Plastic toys are everywhere, and when it comes to softer plastic toys like rubber duckies, teethers and bath books, they may actually pose a health hazard to growing kids. Such toys often contain phthalates, chemicals that studies like those from Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Environmental Working Group have linked to behavioral problems, aggression and autism. Look for wooden versions of classic toys instead—from stacking blocks and puzzles to push toys. If they are painted, verify that it was with nontoxic, water-based paint.

Etsy.com represents several designers who specialize in heirloom-quality wooden toys, like Woodmouse animal figures, Just Hatched fruits and veggies and Stump Pond Woodworks creations that spin, dance and tumble through the playroom.

Recycled Content. One of the best ways to ensure we’re choosing a “green” gift is to find out if it’s made from recycled content. For the teen set, recycled options help them make a statement, whether it’s a belt accessorized with bottle caps, a purse made of license plates or a bag made from former billboards. TerraCycle even makes mini-boom boxes and speakers out of former M&M’s, Skittles and Starburst candy wrappers (DwellSmart.com). Light, portable and super-colorful, they supply a natural complement to any iPod or MP3-player gift this holiday season.

Brita Belli is the editor of E – The Environmental Magazine.