Contributor: Victoria Maus
Children certainly seem to accumulate a lot of “stuff” don’t they? My own children, whilst not spoilt, have more toys between them than is necessary. A quick look at the chaos in their bedroom and I realised that over half of their toys are made of plastic.
When our eldest was born, seven years ago, we tried so hard to only buy fabric and wooden toys. We had this sense from things we were reading at the time that wooden toys = good and plastic toys = bad. Of course, over the years this policy has evolved. Not only because of well-meaning friends and relatives but also because of the toys our daughters choose to play with. Anyone else’s child have a LEGO obsession?!
But is letting our children play with plastic toys really that bad?
What plastics, if any, should we be on the look out for when buying toys?
Types of Plastic
It’s worth bearing in mind that toys sold in the UK need to conform to EU safety standards and this covers things such as toxicity. Of course, thanks to the Internet, we don’t just buy toys from the UK anymore. It’s worth knowing what to look out for.
There are a few types of plastic that are best avoided when purchasing toys. Here’s what to look for:
BPA is a plastic type that most parents have heard of and it’s generally used for hard plastic items. Bottles, dummies and teething toys all proudly proclaim at us that they’re “BPA free”. So what’s the problem with BPA (bisphenol A)? It has been linked to causing a myriad of health problems, including infertility and heart disease.
Controversially BPS, often used to replace BPA may be just as harmful.
The concern with PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is much the same as with BPA. However, PVC is uniquely toxic due to its ingredients which migrate into the environment during manufacture, use, and disposal. It’s also the only plastic made with chlorine and is actually 57% chlorine.
Phthalates are substances that are commonly used to soften PVC. It was noted back in 1998 by the European Union that these substances were “liable to cause liver, kidney and testicular damage.” A ban was set in motion in 1999, starting with an immediate ban of phthalates in soft toys and those for teething.
Plastic and the Environment
As well as the obvious, and serious implications, on our children’s health, what of the environmental impact of all this plastic?
The most glaringly obvious problem is that plastic does not decompose. There is no such thing as throwing toys away. Away just means that they are sitting in landfill or that they end up in the ocean. We all know from Blue Planet II that this mass of plastic rubbish is slowly killing marine life and this, in turn, has a drastic effect on human life too.
Other problems with plastic toys is that they’re generally intended to have a short lifespan. Manufacturers want our children to move onto the latest shiny thing quickly. Plastic toys tend to generate a significant amount of packaging waste too. And let’s not even talk about the batteries that most of these toys require…
For me, it seems that the best way forward is to try to avoid buying plastic toys where possible. This must be a realistic compromise though as my girls will never stop adding to their LEGO collection! As for the toys they’ve grown out of, we always try to pass them on to friends or we donate them to local women’s refuges. Although I’d rather not buy plastic at all, I feel better knowing that we’re giving our toys a longer lifespan.
We’ve always encouraged our daughters to be interested in the natural world around them and they both love messy and creative activities as well as reading. All things that don’t require plastic toys and long may this continue.
Bio: Victoria is a former primary school teacher and mum to two daughters. She has combined her passions to create a sustainable sewing and eco lifestyle blog at Thimble End and runs an ethical IT company with her fiancé. She’s also busy planning a Star Wars themed wedding.