Friday, August 3, 2007

Recalling all toys

By now you’ve probably heard about Mattel’s recall of nearly 1 million Chinese-made toys – including plastic Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters -- because their paint contains excessive amounts of lead. (Go to for the full story and to for a list of recalled toys.)

We don’t own any of the affected toys, but the news has almost inspired me to do my own mammoth recall of all the cheap plastic toys in our home. I don’t know how we’ve managed to accumulate so much junk: plastic party favors, plastic miniature animals and people, plastic cars and plastic trucks, plastic scooters, plastic Legos and plastic balls. My favorite toys are wooden, but they are sadly outnumbered by the ugly stuff in our house.

Here’s photo evidence from today: Will and a friend play with a large plastic scooter and plastic push toy as they hover over a jungle of little plastic toys they emptied out of a bin and played with earlier. Our house is small and our living room doubles as play room. Until clean-up time arrives each night, we tend to live in this kind of chaos.

Last year, as I read “You are Your Child’s First Teacher,” by Rahima Baldwin Dancy, a book that lays out the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Waldorf school, I found the idea of giving children only crude wooden toys – dolls whose faces left much to the imagination, rather than highly detailed anatomically correct Barbies for example – enticing. But Will’s play world was already littered with so much plastic that I never did anything about it. (We do have a loosely enforced ban in our house on all things battery-operated, flashing and otherwise extraordinarily obnoxious.)

Today though, as Will took the plastic orange head off one of his plastic golf clubs (from a set which cost something like $5 at Wal-Mart, I’m ashamed to admit), stuck it in his mouth and pretended it was a harmonica, I got a little nervous. I thought, that’s got to be a made-in-China toy, produced by some unknown manufacturer that may be a lot less likely to issue a well publicized toy recall than toy giant Mattel. Will handed the spit-covered orange “harmonica” to me so I could have a turn making music, and sure enough there were the three words: “Made in China.” With 80 percent of all toys made in China, that was no surprise.

Time to go outside and start carving wooden dolls and boats out of fallen tree limbs.

Still, while I like to dream romantically about a plastic-free house, if you come visit me anytime soon you’ll probably notice that I haven’t found the will power to toss 75 percent of Will’s toys (there’s probably that much plastic in our toy chest) to the curb. Just imagine the tears. Slowly and sneakily though, I may start withdrawing at least a few of them here and there.


Allison Kennedy said...

Annie, it's great to see this. I like it! Let me know when I can come over and meet Owen. (great name. :)

ron addington said...

Hi Annie, as first time grandparents we thought anything with bells,noise and hey, if it moved by itself, that was the very thing for a new first grandbaby. I'm guessing the toy makers got first dibs on this idea,(duh)sold us, then added not one but four batteries(not included with product) that last maybe 2hrs and then you pay more for the battery than the item. (think computer printers and ink) The toys from China thing really bothers us as it should everyone,not just grandparents. Okay, so we buy furniture and clothes and pretty much everything else(now including food items) all made in China. But I draw the line on our grandbaby. The wooden items(probably made in China but hopefully without toxic paint) we have given as gifts have lasted much longer and been more absorbing (no pun) in the play area than the plastic.
Great articles in the blog and congrats to you,Rob (and Will as big brother) for doing great with Owen. P.S. I will admit that the (plastic) remote control car(with batteries) saved me with Will the night prior to Owen's birth.

Michele said...

Greetings Annie, I have boycotted Made in China for a number of years now, for as long as Michele can remember anyway. It is one of my OCD habits to look at a products' origin. Here is a website to a Made in USA company that may help with future conscientious toy purchases

There have been numerous articles in various papers around the country with people attempting not to buy Made in China. The general consensus is that it's nearly impossible especially those with little ones. That cute little football Michele gave Will...made in China. I cringed saying nothing to ruin Michele's joy of giving. It's an unfortunate circumstance we've come this far in our dependence to realize that Always Low Prices is not Always Wise Choices. I fear this problem will only become worse before it becomes better.

Cheers to educated consumers!!

Kevin Elmore


First, Kevin:
I'm inspired by Always Low Prices boycotters like you. My thrifty-cheapskate and environmentally-and-socially-conscientious-consumer alter egos are constantly battling it out when it's shopping time.

Thanks for letting us know about the zebulonusa website. I noticed that almost all the toys listed there are made by either Maple Landmark or Holgate and they both look like great resources for American-made wooden toys (see But I'm curious about zebulon's criteria for recommending items. Do you know anything about how the site works? I noticed businesses can somehow become an affiliate. And I was thinking surely there are other American wooden toy companies out there? (Or maybe all else IS made in China). In any case, it's a good starting place for finding alternatives to the cheap plastic stuff. Thanks for the comment and for the football (China-made or not, Will loves it. And I'm thinking we're safe on the lead paint issue at least).

And Ron (aka Papa): Anyone who can perform the miracle of getting Will to sleep on the night that we were off laboring in the hospital is allowed and encouraged to buy and use whatever plastic, battery-operated toy is most likely to do the trick.


Oops, and Allison:

Please come see Owen anytime. We love visitors and Will REALLY LOVES visitors. And for anyone getting around to reading these comments, check out Allison's health and fitness blog (she's a fellow Ledger-Enquirer reporter, only she does the full-time, in-the-office gig). Go to, scroll down to blogs and click on "Spin Cycle."