Saturday, August 11, 2007

Police those toys

As a follow-up to my plastic toy rant on August 3, I wrote a column for today’s edition of the Ledger-Enquirer that includes more specific information about lead safety concerns in children’s toys. Go here to read the full column.

In it, Patty Davis, a spokesperson for the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, recommends going here and signing up for recall announcements. Since the commission announces about 400 recalls a year, spare yourself an e-mail overload by choosing the categories that concern you (child and infant products is one option).

For information about lead paint in homes and getting your children’s blood lead levels tested go to this EPA site or this CPSC site.

Also, in a comment after that August 3 post about the Mattel toy recall, Kevin, who’s a much more conscientious consumer than me, recommends this Web site for finding made-in-the-USA products. If you’re shopping for kids, they sell mostly Holgate and Maple Landmark wooden toys.

An afterthought: After that August 3 plastic toy tirade, my mom started defending plastic to me. “Everything in moderation,” she says. And she’s probably right. In fact, as much as I favor Will’s little wooden farm man, woman and cow, he tends to spend a lot more time with his other little plastic people and animals. They’re colorful and easy to maneuver and they inspire lots of creative play in him. So most of his toys are plastic, and most of them will be staying, although I still do intend to clean out some of the lesser-loved junk at some point. I'm also feeling inspired to buy a couple wooden toys for Will's birthday, and I’ll be on a more vigilant lookout for recalls from now on.


April said...

We're pretty firmly in the wooden and other natural materials toy camp for many reasons, primarily environmental. Plastic toys are often not recyclable and don't biodegrade; they are made from petroleum. My favorite website on this topic (I'm sure there are many others) is This site is talking about plastic grocery bags and drink containers, but I'm sure the general principles apply to toys as well. If we stop buying (or using) this stuff, hopefully folks will stop making it!
Sure, our kids love plastic toys; they also love soda pop and marshmallows but that doesn't mean they get 'em (often).

We have lots of wooden stuff by a company called Melissa & Doug ( Most if not all is made in China and we were worried, so we emailed them and got this response:
"No, none of our products have ever been recalled, and in light of recent news, we definitely appreciate and understand your concern.

Please be assured, we test for lead VERY frequently.

It's quite possible to make great quality children's items in China, which meet all safety regulations, but the key point is that you have to test and inspect very frequently to be sure that your factories are always following your instructions explicitly. I assure you that's exactly what we do.

From our experience, the key to doing this correctly is not simply to insist that your factories follow your instructions, but then to go one step further and to AUDIT, INSPECT, AND TEST very frequently. That is the most important part of the process, and it's something our company has always taken VERY seriously.

Thanks again for asking, and for your support also."

Annie Addington said...

Thanks for pointing out the environmental concerns related to non-biodegrading plastic toys. That's perhaps the most persuasive argument for me for trying to buy as much wood as possible -- and I didn't even get into that. I guess the most environmentally responsible choice is first not to acquire tons of toys (whatever they're made of) to begin with and then to go wooden when you are toy shopping (or buy recycled by going to consignment stores). (American-made wooden would also cut out carbon emissions related to shipping). But at some point it gets difficult to do the best thing environmentally. Most of our wooden toys are Melissa and Doug too -- and it's a nice compromise. You get the wood and it's a little more affordable and readily available at various stores than with some toy companies I think. I'm going to try sticking to books and wood as I birthday gift shop this year (for Will and for others). Thanks for the inspiration to be a little greener.

Courtney said...

I am in agreement with your environmental concerns regarding plastic, 100 percent. My vegetarianism stems primarily from environmental issues. But, to play devil's advocate, we could make the case that plastic toys can be passed along indefinately. Additionally, as they can be more thoroughly cleaned, children in hospitals can play with them without as great a potential for spreading germs (Tasch was hospitalized at 9mos with a random lung infection so this is a slight concern for me). And while some kids may love soda pop and marshmallows, other kids are taught that those are unhealthy or only for grownups - or, in our case, not vegetarian. Kids are rather accepting of what we teach them at the age where these are issues. And perhaps we should examine issues such as these from more than the most obvious perspectives. It is definitely best to be environmentally conscious - after all, that's our legacy to our children - but some don't have the luxury or option to take as much care as we'd prefer.