While I had a hunch I knew what an eco-friendly toy was, I wondered if there was an industry-wide standard for this classification in order to better understand how my potential eco-friendly purchase might help the environment.
According to Kristen Morency and Adrienne Appell, representatives with the Toy Industry Association (TIA), a non-profit trade association representing over 550 North American toy manufacturers and importers, “there is no ‘official’ definition of eco-friendly toys at this time. However, our members who are producing ‘green’ products typically have implemented one of the following actions:”
- They use materials that are recycled or are renewable under schemes such as the FCS (Forest Stewardship Council); and/or
- They are producing in a factory that is currently using environmental energy sources; and/or
- They are producing biopolymers
TIA representatives also mentioned that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has not yet completed the update of its Green Guides, which provides guidance on “how to help marketers avoid making unfair or deceptive environmental marketing claims.”
When I contacted the EPA to gather additional feedback on what an eco-friendly or “green” toy was, I was directed to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). A representative there asked me to email my request and someone would get back to me (nobody has yet.)
To get the local take on the subject, I contacted Montclair’s environmental affairs coordinator Gray Russell to see what he thought….
“When I think of whether something is ‘green’ or not, I’m trying to think of its origins and its ultimate end—what you call life cycle analysis or throughput,” says Russell. In general, Russell considers the following:
- Are workers’ and crafters’ conditions fair and safe?
- What types of materials are being used to create the toy?
- Was the toy made locally or in New Jersey? (“There are crafters who make things locally and that’s as ‘green’ as you can get… The shorter the distance it takes for a toy to get here, the more eco-friendly it becomes.”)
- Is the toy wrapped in a material that can be recycled or reused somehow?
- Is this a toy a kid is learning a lesson from? Eco-friendly might be something that has a lesson with it and even better if it has a green lesson about conserving, saving and protecting trees, animals, fish or whales is an additional bonus. If it’s a war game where people are blowing each other up, I can’t imagine how you would classify that as eco-friendly.
- Finally, you get to its finished stage and the toy is not being used anymore and you’re gonna get rid of it. So therefore, is it a material—is it durable so it can be handed down to a kid brother or neighborhood friends or given to a shelter or is it something that’s going to break after 6 weeks and you have to throw it away. And then can a part of it be recycled or if it’s made of components that are toxic?”
Russell says that eco-friendly toys may not necessarily have to feature all these characteristics, “but it should be more than ‘painted with a non-toxic paint’ and therefore, it’s eco-friendly.”
Armed with this information, I visited Learning Express, Aunt Jean’s Toys & Treats and Just Kidding Around in Montclair, South Orange’s Sparkhouse and Scrivener’s in Maplewood to find out what toys were in stock and how the manufacturers defined them as eco-friendly.
Most stores I visited carry products from Green Toys, a California-based company. The company manufactures its products from 100% recycled plastic from milk jugs; contain no BPA, phthalates or PVC; does not use cellophane or twist-ties and has passed a number of tests, including the Consumer Products Safety Standard Specification and California Prop. 65 restrictions on lead and cadmium. Toys I found included: Sandwich shop ($16.99; Learning Express), tea and dish sets ($29.99; Just Kidding Around), dump truck, fire trucks and flatbed trucks ($29.99; Just Kidding Around); race cars ($9.99) and school buses ($29.99) at Sparkhouse and a cooking and dining set ($39.95; Scrivener’s).
Just Kidding Around, Scrivener’s and Sparkhouse all carry products from PlanToys. Chelsea, a store manager at JKA, told me this Thailand-based company was first a construction company that moved into toys “because the organization wanted to give back to communities” and “portions of the proceeds go back to employees and the community.” On the packaging of one toy I read the company uses vegetable oils, organic paint, non-toxic glue, chemical-free rubber and employs Eco-efficiency manufacturing and participates in reforestation. I found a tea set ($24.99) and tableware set ($24.99) at JKA; a dancing alligator ($19.99) and an oval xylophone ($22.98) at Sparkhouse; and a construction set ($35.95) at Scrivener’s.
JamTown, a Seattle-based company that is a Fair Trade Federation member, sells “handcrafted indigenous” musical instruments, including drums, whistles, rain sticks, shakers, and more (prices range from $1.99 to $99.00) and has its own section in Just Kidding Around.
At Sparkhouse, I found a 22-piece magnetic wooden block set ($59.99), magnetic wooden cars ($39.99) and a 40-piece explorer set ($99.99) made by Tegu, which manufactures FSC-certified and sustainable hardwood toys, supports reforestation and local education in Honduras where “the company pays above-market wages to employees” who make the toys.
I also found bamboo-made mini-vehicles ($4.99) and an e-plane ($24.99) from Hape, a company initially established in Germany but now located in Ningbo, China. According to its website, Hape “is one of the world’s largest producers of toys made from sustainable materials,” makes bamboo toys, and “considered surface treatment, energy consumption, and packaging options to minimize environmental impact and maximize efficiency.” Hape cites FSC certification, as well as other certifications focused on quality management and ethical manufacturing and safe workplace environments.
I found a dumptruck ($14.99) and heli-scoopter ($15.95) from Sprig Toys, a Colorado-based company that uses recycled sprigwood, reclaimed sawdust and recycled plastic at Sparkhouse and Scrivener’s, as well as an activity walker ($74.99) and stable set ($28.95) from EverEarth by Maxim Enterprise, Inc. The company uses recycled materials, soy ink, wood taken from renewable forests and recycled rubber wood.
At Learning Express and Aunt Jean’s I found a Teddy Bear ($32.99) and organic baby items from MiYim, a company that sells “chemical-free” items made from “organic cotton and all natural ingredients ensuring environmentally sustainable products; use non-toxic coloring; employ a low eco-impact dye process; and ethical labor policy.” MiYim is part of Brooklyn-based Greenpoints Brands LLC, “a leading multinational creator, manufacturer and distributor of high-quality plush toys.”
Aunt’s Jean’s also sells a table and chair set ($36.00) made from recycled materials by Colorme, a company based in Essex Fells and handmade eco-crayons ($12.00), eco finger paint ($24.00) made with “natural and organic fruit plant and vegetable extracts,” and bee and soy wax (for the crayons) by eco-kids, a Maine-based company that produces all-natural art supplies. I also found a Busy Block ($24.99) from Dandelion, a division of Rethink It, Inc., a Florida-based manufacturer of infant and toddler toys. A member of the Organic Trade Association, Dandelion says it uses organic materials, such as bamboo, uses recycled packaging, contributes to environmental non-profits, and “is committed to ethical and responsible business practices.”