The Real Truth About Organic Toys

Organic products are all the rage in today’s playgroup circles, accounting for over $100 billion worth of sales in the current marketplace. It makes sense – we all take great, even astronomically expensive, measures to ensure our babies’ health. Yet what happens when the literal fibers of our proverbial safety net – the organic toys – are revealed to contain toxins? Below, the real truth about organic toys:
A study conducted within the last five years shows that some of our favorite organic toy makers aren’t so organic after all. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course. The EPA isn’t necessarily known for its quality control. “According to the EPA itself, 95 percent of all chemicals have never undergone even minimal testing for their toxicity or environmental impact,” writes Mark Schapiro in his latest book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power. And for the newer chemicals industry brings to market? “85 percent of the notifications submitted annually contain no health data.”
It’s a reality that’s increasingly unsettling considering the large role chemicals play in the development of carcinogens. Yet there’s little hope for a ban on today’s most aggressive chemicals, according to biochemist, lawyer and Science and Environmental Health legal director Joseph Guth. “The chemical companies give you function and they give you price. What they don’t give you is safety or environmental effects. That is a complete black box. The data gaps are massive.”
So where’s the data? According to Schapiro, it’s the nature of the beast. “The Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, was passed by Congress in 1976 six years after President Richard Nixon created the EPA,” he writes. “TSCA’s primary innovation at the time was in requiring that all chemicals developed from that point on be subject to review for their toxicity before reaching the market. That sounds good, except for one major caveat: TSCA exempted all chemicals already on the market from review. Some sixty-two thousand chemicals were grandfathered into the market, with no testing or review. These included thousands of potentially highly toxic substances, including the likes of ethyl benzene, a widely used industrial solvent suspected of being a potent neurotoxin; whole families of synthetic plastics that are potential carcinogens and endocrine disrupters; and thousands of other substances for which there was little or no information.”
And with roughly 250 pounds of chemicals produced daily per person, it seems there is little hope for escaping the toxins, even in the organic circle. “There is no information out there to prove that yours is better or safer for human health or the environment,” Guth writes. “There’s no competitive pressure to improve it. . . . Consumers, in other words, have no means of expressing their potential preference for less toxic alternatives.”
Until now. With the rise of the handmade marketplace and independent retailers, our trust is in the creative community. Etsy seller Tomas Kupetis of The Wooden Horse is leading a movement toward improving the quality of toys for our children – for good. “Our twins were born premature, so we started to pay more attention to our health. We found organic food and clothes, but it was very difficult to find handmade organic toys. My wife and I started to design and create them ourselves,” he writes.
A quick visit to Kupetis’ shop reveals a wide variety of chemical-free, handmade toys created from Lithuanian birch wood, linen, flax, cardboard and natural fabrics. From blocks to buggies, the variety is inspired. “We didn’t know how to manufacture toys, but we listened to our hearts and observed our kids playing habits,” writes Kupetis. “We’ve since opened a shop in the capital of Lithuania, as well as our country’s first organic toy museum.”
Kupetis is just one of many handmade artisans seeking to improve the health and safety of today’s toy industry. Los Angeles-based shop Woodmouse carries wooden toys hand-cut from sustainably harvested hardwood poplar, hand-sanded and coated with beeswax and organic jojoba oils, then colored with AP certified non-toxic paint. It’s a process that takes considerably longer to manufacture, but is worth the time investment.
Of course, living in constant fear of chemicals is hardly a safe alternative. The trick, like most things, is to alert ourselves to the potential dangers of existing toxins and simply do the best we can. And when the going gets tough, the tough take a walk in their own backyard in search of nature’s favorite, 100% all-organic game pieces: sticks and stones.
After all, our kids probably have too many toys anyway.
Image Credits: The Wooden Horse, Etsy
Just for fun: Sustainable stuffed animals, 14 of today’s best wooden toys and hand-crafted finger puppets.
  • I agree that just doing the best you can has to be good enough. I try to lead an eco-friendly live in all areas but I know I am not perfect. I also agree that most kids do have too many toys and some outdoor play is just the ticket!

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