Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

No more (plastic) toys!

Yummy, chewy plastic farm crittersBurgermeister Meisterburger may have gotten it right. Well, not really, but I can't help myself from chanting "Burgermeister Meisterburger" with a German accent.

What's the point of this post? Well, a reader wrote in asking me to tackle the problem of plastic toys. Her children received some PVC-laden toys for Christmas from some well-meaning relatives. The reader tries to stick to eco-friendly and non-toxic toys and doesn't know what to do with them. With all the problems we've been hearing lately about lead-filled toys, it's a little scary.

So, what does one do with these toys received as gifts? Well, it depends on how old your child is and how aware of the toys they are. If they are young enough and wouldn't know the difference I would suggest trying to return them.

Most likely you won't have a receipt for the gift and you surely wouldn't want to let your friends and relatives know that you are displeased with their gift choices to ask for one. Many stores will allow you to return a product even without a receipt. Just call around and see who carries the item and whether or not they'll accept it without a receipt. Of course, this means that the toy must be in its original packaging and hasn't already been field tested. Usually a store will give you the lowest price on that product (for, say, in the last six months), but in my mind that's okay.

What to do with the money you received for the return? Well, if the child is older and knows you are returning the toy you can allow them to purchase an eco-friendly toy in exchange. This should keep everyone happy and it teaches them the value of money, too.

Okay, so let's say that the toy has either been already opened (you didn't know there was a seething pile of cancer-causing plastic inside) or you can't find a store that carries the item to return it. My suggestion is to donate it. I know this more or less pushes the toxins off on someone else. But I don't believe that throwing the item out serves much of a purpose particularly when there are thousands of families who aren't as concerned about having eco-friendly toys one way or another. So, it might seem like you are doing someone else a disservice, but until everyone is educated and is onboard with choosing non-toxic items, I think it's an acceptable solution.

If the child is older, donating toys may pose a problem as they'll probably not want to give up something they received. Instead of giving them the option of getting something else in exchange (and costing you money) I recommend letting them choose between several activities that they like doing. For example, going to the library once a week for a month, visiting their favorite park or beach more often (season permitting), going camping, etc. It depends on their interests. I guarantee they'll enjoy the experience more than what they are giving up.

Now, what if the item is for an older child and it's a highly coveted toy? Well, that's when your negotiation skills come into play. I'm sure by now if you stick to eco-safe toys you've already had discussions with them about the reasons why you choose them over more commercial toys. Remind them of why you'd like to return or donate the item and give them options for replacement (experiences or using exchange money) that will be satisfactory to both parties.

Ultimately, you are the parent, so you need to decide when it's important enough to, essentially, take away something from them for their safety or whatever your beliefs are. Although this is not quite the same but it's a useful example: no one would argue with you if you refused to let your child play with a bag of broken glass, nails and razor blades, even if the gift giver was well-meaning. If you feel that plastic toys are dangerous to your child, then you have the right to protect them.

What do you do with toys your children receive for gifts that you do not approve of, for whatever reason (too violent, made by unfair labor, questionable materials, too skanky, etc.)?


DC said...

"[N]o one would argue with you if you refused to let your child play with a bag of broken glass, nails and razor blades . . ."

Shhhh. Don't give the toy makers any more ideas. I can just see it: "The Big Bag of Broken Glass, Nails and Razor Blades (tm) -- new, from Matel! Act now, and we'll send you a free box of used syringes at no extra cost!"

Anonymous said...

DC - there already is a toy with a bag of broken glass - the mosaic stepping stone kits come with one. Anyway, if one of my kids has a toy I don't particularly care for I sneak it off (to the swap shop at the dump or stuck in a pile of good will clothes) when they aren't looking. After 19 years (so far) of parenting I've only ever had one issue with it and I claimed ignorance (I didn't know it was in that bag honey - I'm sorry) and that was it.

Unknown said...

not to be harsh- but we return when possible, re-gift when appropriate, save for garage sale or donation site. with that being said most of my fam & friends get items from our wish lists and that way it is all ready mama approved ;)
i had a really hard time this year because of all of the recalls and warnings... you can look at my site and see the endless postings on toys... we were pretty successful with our plastic free/pvc free holiday. we did get a few plastic toys; however it is really hard to avoid plastic all together (not impossible) just difficult and as long as they are safe plastics and you keep it to a minimum there shouldn't be too much stress... sorry for the run on... i have some babies to tend too!
Great topic!!!
Sam at Loving Green

Cave-Woman said...

Does your town have a "toy library"? It's just like a book library, except that you can check toys in and out. Maybe you could donate a toy to such a place?
I know a bunch of concerned moms who started one at their local church mainly as an idea for "frugal fun", to keep house clutter to a minimum.

Is it my imagination, or did SNL come up with a faux-commercial for "Big Bag of Nails"? Funny stuff.

Admittedly, it doesn't address the issue of removing such toys from the market, but it may help with the "what to do with this toy" conundrum.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on, you can't do the library as a present, especially for older kids.

Had my mom ever tried that one on me I would have totally kicked her in the ovaries.

We have a box of toys stashed in my closet now-- things that I won't get into on here but are staying out of sight out of mind.

Luckily, my kids are young so they don't care. Either these things will get returned (probably not because there's no way in hell I'm making another return trip to walmart) or sent to a resale shop where we get store credit.

DC said...

"there is already a toy with a bag of broken glass . . ."

You piqued my interest. I found the toy you mentioned and also found that there is a toy for kids ages five and up that really does contain a bag of nails and a metal claw hammer "just like Dads." It's called the Children’s First Woodwork Set. I am not kidding. Ironically, it is sold on a web site that markets itself as a supplier of safe toys (and for the most part, it does appear to have some good products). I guess a five year old might be able to use a hammer and nails safely with close adult supervision, but I think it's pushing things a bit to market this kind of an item to to young children.

Real life is sometimes its own best parody.

Anonymous said...

So far, we haven't had too much trouble with toys that are unsafe or that we are philosophically opposed to coming into our home as gifts. I was slightly horrified by the sexy Halloween barbie my 3yo got for her birthday (which got donated to Toys for Tots).

I felt similarly about the cheap pink cardboard treasure chest full of cheap polyester disney princess dress up clothes she received as well. They were all tube tops and mini skirts and little puff sleeves unattached to clothing. That was returned b/c it hadn't been opened. And our daughter already has a huge bin of dress up clothes that is overflowing and needs to be cleaned out anyway.

I didnt manage to stop my husband from opening this enormous package that contained the Little Mermaid and the Prince on a plastic light up dolphin chariot. Not too bad, but annoying noise, stinky plastic, disney princess stuff doesnt fit too well with our household. That one, since it was out of the box and played with (for about an hour, then forgotten about), went to the consignment shop.

We sent an email to all relatives prior to Christmas to ask them to follow recommended guidelines for safe toys. It was pretty easy to do it in a diplomatic way b/c there was a great article in our paper that had a list of toys to avoid and places you can go to get toys that are safe. It worked out pretty well.

Going Crunchy said...

Christmas was easier as we had the economic power and chose to only buy used items when possible, redid a few things, etc.

The prior birthday was a little trickier. I made our own invitations and put a nicely worded statement that we are a kinda crunchy family. A gift is not requested, but if you chose to honor our child with a gift then please note that we prefer non-violent toys that promote positive physical play.

I also put a note that they could check my blog to see what little steps our family was doing, our view the Pulitizer Prize winning research done by the LA Times called Altered Oceans.

I worded it very nice, made it a little fun and tried not to sound preachy. Most folks went with craft supplies and sports toys. Fine by me!

Well, except my snarky BIL that got a dancing plastic dog that moves to music. That quickly went into the yard sale bin and he lives states away and won't know. Shhhh..... Shannon

Anonymous said...

We've spent the last 8 years trying to turn out a kid who doesn't ask for plastic crap and thankfully, it seems we've done the impossible. I can't imagine Lil' Style EVER asking for something that comes from a Box Box store.

When we went to the local independent toy store recently to buy a gift for her cousin she suggested we buy a plush fairy doll because "it doesn't have any packaging." Our (positive) brainwashing skills have paid off!

I know it seems impossible to raise a kid like this but the younger you get to them the easier it is!

It also helps to replace those wants with something else. Lil Style knows she isn't going to get the same toys as every other kid but she also knows she'll get to go to the theater every other week (which she loves) and that the money we would have spent on crap is going to experiences and great meals out.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog although this is the first time that I've had enough time to leave a comment. My kids are now older (8 and 9) but earlier I was very naive about toy safety and hence we have alot of plastic toys. Now being worried about their safety in terms of toxins I am getting rid of them. However, because it is not just an issue of being environmentally friendly but also perhaps of being toxic I don't feel comfortable in giving them to friends or charities who may not be as aware. I do surgery for breast cancer and would hate to think that I had put someone at risk for cancer later on. At the moment I am throwing them out but would love to know if there is someway to safely recycle them and get rid of the toxins. By the way I am freezing my buns off at 65 in the day and 62 at night and find that old fashion long johns help!

Anonymous said...

Here's an opportunity for Send-It-Back activism! Not necessarily back to the person who gave it to you if that would cause hurt feelings. And not back to the store if you don't have a receipt and can't return it that way. I mean back to the manufacturer or distributor! Whenever I receive deliveries of products packaged in unnecessary plastic and styrofoam, I send back the packaging with a nice letter explaining why I won't be doing business with this company anymore. When I discovered that the tubing on my new MultiPure water filter was made from PVC, I sent it back with a letter and fought for a nearly full refund even though I had exceeded the time limit. I also sent back some PVC bottles of hair gel. Most recently, I sent back the reusable tote bag I received from Planet Green because the coating on it was off-gasing so bad I thought I'd pass out.

Regifting these items doesn't do anything to clean up our toxic world. It might protect our own families but spread the toxins out into the world. Since we're all connected, we can't really protect ourselves by harming others. Sending things back to the company with a letter communicates your desire as a consumer to have healthy choices available. If enough of us do it, we can make an impact.

salmonpoetry said...

i want to second the post that suggests that prevention is the best line of defense. once you gain the awareness of the dangers of plastic toys, you can share that with your child(ren). my daughter has known since she was 2 that plastic toys can be 'dangerous' or 'make you sick.' simple wooden and fabric toys are healthier alternatives and she has bought into this fully. as she has gotten older (now 5), i have provided her with more details on the specifics of the toxicology of plastic toys (it helps that i am a biologist, i guess).
educating gift givers in advance about our family's choices and why we have made them is also a shot of prevention. and, depending on the giver, education may mean gently refusing the gift or creatively including the giver in the return (though of course this is not always feasible).
we keep the 'dangerous' toys we have been given in a box in the basement where other 'dangerous' things are kept (like, the oft-mentioned nails, and indeed, shards of glass for mommy's craft projects). often they end up being carted to goodwill, although not too many have accumulated over the years i have to admit. ethically, i figure that as long as there is a deluge of NEW plastic toys on store shelves, it is advantageous to offer used ones, with the hope that perhaps someone will buy the used one in place of the new one and decrease demand for making these evil items. i know that may not fit from a purist harm-reduction perspective, but it is the best that i can do in the present.

BoysMom said...

I have to admit that we don't do anything.
All the plastic and just plain too many gifts come from my folks. My mom, really. And she visits us at LEAST once a month. If we ever got rid of something she got the kids she'd throw fits. At this point, it's not worth it.
I'm still trying to figure out what, if anything, I can do with the horrid polyester outfit she got me this year. Not my style, not my color, and definitely not my fabric. She announced before I got it open "I hope you like this; I got it on clearance so you can't take it back."
What would you do? I'm considering the thrift store but I know the next time she comes to visit (MLK weekend) she's going to ask me to wear it.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to completely stem the tide of crap, but I have reached a steady state at my house.

We have a set amount of space for toys, clothes, bikes, etc - this applies to grownups, too. When my shirt drawer is full, no more new shirts unless I weed it out.

So when the toy box gets full, some toys have to go. So far, my son doesn't seem to mind (he's only 2.) Most of them came from the thrift store originally, so it's sort of like a toy library.

But at Christmas we specifically asked for things made of wood (puzzles), natural rubber (ball), or used (animals for his barn). What we got was wood-with-plastic, plastic, and a whole brand new plastic barn. None can be returned - all had to be opened so the gifters could see the kid play with them. I think people just don't get it, really. Since we have them, we're keeping them - though the barn has lost it's battery.

I don't know if you can really consider it harming someone else to give them a plastic object that you didn't cause to exist - the person getting the regift hopefully doesn't see it as harm, and the object causes the same amount of harm when it's landfilled as when it's used. (unless it's PVC or covered in lead.)

Anonymous said...

There are great places for your plastic toys. Children's hospitals, shelters, community centers, even low-income daycares often prefer plastic toys because they can be easily sterilized.

We don't go totally no plastic in our house- but we try to encourage long-term use toys always, no matter what the material. Legos have been a huge hit in our house for years. We have some sets that are older than us!

Anonymous said...

Sanitized is the word I believe, not sterilized.

Care said...

I have learned so much about the issues with popular toys over the course of the last year and then all the recalls...frightening. Then I found out about sippy cups and their dangers...shocking. (Anyone who watches Boston Legal will insert the right voice on the "Shocking".) My husband and I have certainly changed our views on toys, and now we aim for healthy, free trade toys, and taught our 2 year old to take a regular small glass till we replace the sippies with something else. My parents, and other family doesn't really seem to get it. I asked them to just get the kids some good books, art supplies etc. for Christmas, but instead they got lots of plasticy things. Well, I have a whole year now to try to change their views or at least get them to accept mine and the darling husband's. As far as the things about the nails in the jr. woodworking set...we buy our two oldest kids (4,& 5) little building sets with nails, but they are ALWAYS supervised and the results have been several well loved and used bird houses and feeders. My 5 year old especially loves building things and used his tool kit (includes a saw) to make his first outdoor bench this last Summer. It is a little wonky, I mean he is 5 after all, but it was so much fun to get to help when he needed it and to watch him do the rest. Lopsided or not, it is a good bench. I am all for toys that can provide such hands on learning and enjoyment, provided that the kiddo's are observed as they work with them.