4 July 2012
How Green Are Your Children's Toys?
By: Lisa Reid (BEng(Environmental))
They may be brightly coloured and entertaining but how toxic and environmentally unfriendly is your child’s toy collection?
Toys are everywhere in our home, which is not surprising given we have two children under the age of three. The toys are all shapes and sizes – cars, soft toys, blocks, musical instruments, balls, puzzles, boxes, dress-ups and art and crafts. While I know toys can help a child’s development in so many ways, I am concerned about the volume we have and the potential impacts on both the environment and our children.
During 2011, approximately $1.1 billion was generated in retail toy sales in Australia (source). This is an alarmingly high figure given our population at the time of 22.7 million (source), with 18.3% (or approximately 4.14 million) people under 14 years (source).
Over the years, children’s toys have evolved from being simple and hand-made from natural materials to being more complex and mass-produced from cheaper, oil-based plastics (source). This coupled with our ‘throw-away’ society has meant that many perfectly good toys now unnecessarily ended up in landfill, where they will remain for many years.
Most modern toys are made from plastic, of which oil, a non-renewable resource, is the main component. While plastic toys can be robust and long-lasting, some can also easily break and be difficult and expensive to repair, further contributing to the escalating amount of landfill waste.
Approximately 75% of the world’s toys are produced in China (source). Most toys sold in Australia are therefore imported and have travelled a significant distance to reach your home. Working conditions reportedly vary in these toy producing factories, a factor which should be considered when making your purchase.
A more serious concern associated with plastic toys is the chemicals additives used in manufacture which may be exposed to your baby or child during play. Of specific concern are toys containing phthalates (an additive in polyvinyl chloride (PVC)), Bisphenol A (BPA) and lead. The table below shows each chemical, its use, exposure route and potential health impact. It should be noted that the concentrations at which each of the following chemicals are considered toxic vary and are dependent on a number of factors, such as age and length of exposure.
Consider the following points when choosing toys for your children to help minimize the environmental and health impact of your purchase:
- Material – if purchasing new toys look for those made from a renewable, recycled or organic material such as those available at Sustainababy.
- Origin – consider where and how the toy was made and opt for locally made toys or those made under Fairtrade conditions.
- Longevity – consider the life of the toy in terms of age appropriateness and physical durability.
- Second hand – can the toy be bought second-hand?
- Reusablity - can the toy be passed on to family, friends or charities rather than throwing out.
- Alternatives – would a toy library membership (approximately $50 per year) be more suitable?
About the Author: Lisa Reid is an eco mum and environmental engineer and resides in Melbourne with her husband Tim and young children Jacob and Edith. Lisa is working to reduce her family's eco footprint by growing her own vegetables, using less chemicals and making her home energy efficient.