“BPA-free” and “Phthalate-free” are two phrases we often see on kid product packaging, but what exactly does this mean and what harm can these toxins really do to our kids?
Green Child Magazine said it best, “If you have to have a PhD in chemistry to figure out what’s in a product designed for babies and small children, chances are your child shouldn’t be playing with it, chewing on it, or eating or drinking from it.” (Source- Green Child Magazine)
Below is a list of alternative toys instead of always buying plastic, but first let’s understand what toxins to avoid and the risks associated with them.
Here are four toxic chemicals to avoid and why:
1. Phthalates (pronounced thay-lates)
“Phthalates commonly show up in teething rings, pacifiers, and flexible plastic toys. They’re used to retain the strength and resiliency of plastics while allowing them to bend. Phthalates leach from finished products when handled by children, especially through chewing and sucking, according to a 1998 CPSC study.” (Source: Parentmap)
Risks: Phthalates not only upset the body’s hormonal balance, they’ve also been found to stimulate the growth of cancers. (Source- Green Child Magazine)
Lead is found in more than just paint. Kids toys and even kids jewelry have lead! Lead is used to make plastic more durable.
Risks: “Lead affects the nervous system and has been linked to hearing loss, ADHD, and decreased IQ. It’s also a concern because children absorb and retain lead in their systems more easily than adults.” (Source- Green Child Magazine) Lead also “disrupts the chemistry in the kidneys, brain and bones, which can harm bone and tooth production, and lead to learning disabilities, reduced mental capacity and kidney failure.” (Source: Parentmap)
Cadmium is a metal sometimes used as a cheap alternative to lead to strengthen metal alloys and is used as a plastic stabilizer. Cadmium shows up frequently in children’s products particularly in children’s jewelry, toys with batteries, and paint coatings. (Source: ECO Watch)
Risks: A known carcinogen which can cause cancer, cadmium also affects normal brain growth and can cause kidney damage along with learning disabilities. (Source- Green Child Magazine)
4. BPA (Bisphenol A)
BPA is found in plastic toys, sippy cups, plastic bottles, and the lining of canned foods. It’s most dangerous when the child chews on it and we all know that toys always end up in our little ones’ mouths. Parents should especially avoid all food and drink products that have BPA and opt for a healthier option like these eco-friendly bamboo baby bowl and utensils.
Risks: “The chemical has long been known to weakly mimic the hormone estrogen, and in the 1990s scientists showed that tiny amounts could leach out of plastic products and get into our bodies.” (Source – NPR) “Studies suggest that the more a baby is exposed to estrogen while in the womb, the greater the risk of breast, testicular and prostate cancer later in life.” (Source: Center 4 Research)
However, it’s worth mentioning that a new two-year government study of rats found that even high doses of the plastic additive produced only “minimal effects,” but that these effects could have occurred by chance. (Source – NPR)
Even so, with BPA, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Most canned food, water bottles, and baby products sold in the U.S. are now BPA-free.
Plastic Toy Alternatives:
Even though plastic toys are made with less chemicals, they can still get toxins by the manufacturing process, and there are different chemicals added to plastic toys that could even be more harmful.
“My fear is that parents, and companies, are focusing on BPA and missing the bigger picture. Many plastics, including BPA-free plastics, contain other chemical plasticizers, which are added to make the containers more flexible. Unfortunately, many plasticizers are also endocrine disruptors similar to BPA, which means that they could cause many of the same health issues. According to Carl Baum, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine and the Director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Toxicology, some plasticizers may be even be more dangerous for our children than BPA,” says Kate L. Harrison, eco attorney and author of Green Bride Guide. (Source: Forbes.com by Green Mom Guide)
Katie recommends that parents avoid buying plastic toys for their kids which may seem daunting, but there are some excellent alternative toys to plastic — especially for babies and toddlers when safety matters most.
Six plastic toy alternatives:
1. Rice-Made Toys
Mochi Toys by People Toy Company are made from sushi-grade rice!
The unique Japanese rice-plastic technology uses 51% rice in their construction.
- No toxic paints or adhesives used in Mochi toys
- 100% green
- Mochi prides itself on earth-to-home craftsmanship. You can even smell the aromatic notes of fresh rice grains as soon as you open the packaging.
- Teething necklaces, teethers, and toys are available.
2. Wooden Toys
Wooden toys are becoming more and more popular, but they’ve been around for a very long time dating back to the medieval times.
- Safer: plastic toys can break and leave sharp edges. Wooden toys have smooth edges that are safer for kids.
- Durable: unlike plastic toys that can break easily, wooden toys tend to have a very long life and can be passed down to other generations.
- Sparks Imaginative and Pretend Play: Since wooden toys don’t have batteries and moving parts (and sometimes not a lot of colors and details like plastic toys have), kids use their imagination to play with them. “Pretend play builds skills in areas that must be developed in a child’s life; which include development of language skills, emotional skills, and thinking skills.” (Source – Kaboutjie)
- Eco-Friendly: Wood is biodegradable but plastic is not. Wood is also recyclable.
- Healthier: Wood toys are not made with nasty toxins like plastic toys. Plus, they are hypoallergenic! Just be sure that the paint and the wood finish are eco-friendly / natural. Manzanita Kids finishes with their homemade organic, natural jojoba oil/beeswax finish.
My favorite wooden toy companies are:
1. Manzanita Kids
- Natural wooden toys – no icky toxins!
- Made in the USA – Seattle, WA.
- For every toy sold, they plant a tree…100,000 trees so far!
- Wide array of toys for babies, toddlers and big kids.
- High quality – toys that last and can be passed down.
The Natural Shapes Puzzle toy is a great way to introduce STEM play:
- Handmade four-piece wood puzzle
- Solid wood – maple, cherry and walnut
- Finished with our homemade organic, natural jojoba oil/beeswax finish.
- Simple, modern, natural and waldorf-inspired fun.
- Solving puzzles helps children develop problem-solving skills, spatial reasoning, and builds their confidence!
2. Melissa & Doug
(Known for their wide array of classic, engaging wooden toys)
Shape Sorting Cube Toy
Shape Sorting Cube $14.99
3. HAPE Toys
Cook & Serve Set
Cook and Serve Set $29.99
3. Bamboo Toys
Bamboo is technically a grass with a woody stem so this is why we named bamboo separately from wooden toys.
Bamboo has a whole slew of health benefits for kids and is most popular used as clothing, food and drink products, and now some toys too.
- Esthetically pleasing to the eye.
- Very durable – stronger than oak!
- “Bamboo is more resistant to rot and warping due to moisture as compared to most other woods.”
- Naturally UV resistant.
- Extremely earth-friendly material.
- No chemicals! “Because bamboo is such a naturally prolific plant, it does not require the use of chemicals and fertilizers in order to cultivate it.” Also it requires no pesticides to keep destructive bugs away.
- More resistant to bacteria growth compared to plastic.
- 100% biodegradable. “While a plastic utensil will still be in the landfill when your children’s children have children, bamboo will completely biodegrade in under a year.” Source – Clean Dezign
Favorite bamboo toy?
Hape Pandabu Kids Game
4. 100% Food Grade Silicone
Silicone is another plastic alternative and used for baby bottle nipples, plates, sippy cups, baking dishes, kitchen utensils, mats, and even toys (including teethers).
- Its flexible & lightweight
- Easy to clean and hygienic properties (it has no open pores to harbor bacteria)
Make sure it’s 100% food grade silicone and check that it’s lead and BPA-free especially if you see bright colored silicone. (Source: The Tot)
Favorite silicone toys?
They have the most adorable silicone teething toys that look like real food. Instead of “appetizers” they are called “appe-teethers” – clever. My son loves his broccoli teether and now at age three he still plays with it with his other kitchen play food.
Broccoli Teether $5.99
Bacon & Waffle $9.99
I also love these trendy silicone teething mitts from Itzy Ritzy:
Pineapple Teething Mitt $8.99
5. Recycled Toys
There are some really great toys made from recycled materials, too!
My favorite? Green Toys!
This company makes all their toys from recycled milk jugs!
- BPA and Phthalates-free
- 100% recyclable
- They have recycled almost 78,000 milk jugs to date.
- Each Green Toys box that gets recycled saves 1 gallon of water.
- They even use soy ink!
One of their most popular toys is their tugboat bath toy:
Our babies and toddlers are most susceptible to toxic chemicals and I believe as parents we need to protect our kids as best as possible from the foods our kids eat to the toys they play with and chew on. Not only are these plastic toy alternatives safer, but they are more engaging, they last longer, and are easier to clean / more germ-free.