Why choose wooden toys?
Traditional wooden toys are coming back into fashion. They provide hours of fun for our children, can be made from sustainable materials, can be painted in bright colours with non-toxic paints and are timeless. Not to mention the benefits they provide in-terms of both our children's health and the environment when compared to plastic toys.
Until recently, plastic was regarded as a wonderous material, suitable for all purposes. As Andy Warhol quotes “Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic”. However we are now realising that many chemicals which give plastic their desirable properties also have negative effects on our health, as well as the environment.
There are a number of health related problems associated with the most widely used plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Through the manufacture of PVC, Dioxin, a known human carcinogen is released and during initial use of PVC products, Phthalates, chemicals that have been linked to reproductive birth defects and other illnesses in animal studies are also released – both of which can have negative effects on our health.
The dangers of plastic toys were well publicised in 1999 due to a ban on teething rings and soft vinyl toys for under 5's made from PVC containing phthalates in both the European Union and Japan. Although teething rings containing this chemical are now banned, according to the International Plastics Task Force there are other pliable toys available such as bath and squeeze toys which still contain phthalates.
A 2005 study by the Environment California Research and Policy centre and the United States Public Interest Group (both non-profit corporations) found that fifteen out of the eighteen bath books, teething rings or bath toys they tested contained phthalates.
Plastic pollution is doing more than just blighting the scenery, it is causing monumental damage to both our animals and sea-life, such as in the North Pacific subtropical gyre which contains hundreds of miles of floating plastic. Charles Moore from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, has spent the last few years researching this area of sea and found that the real horror is the fact that by weight this area contains six times as much plastic as it does plankton.
Moore says that “every bit of plastic ever made still exists”. Plastic crumbles into ever smaller fragments when exposed to the elements, but never biodegrades. The truth is that we don't actually know how long it will take for plastics to degrade, and although some plastics can be recycled, most require a new virgin layer of plastic added each time.
Meanwhile every year more than 60 billion tons of plastic is still manufactured; much if which becomes disposable items meant only for single use – such as plastic party bag toys and tableware.
What you can do
Although we won't stop plastic production and save the earth single handedly, there are many things we can all do in an effort to reduce the amount of plastic products which are produced. Small changes in everyday life can make a big difference if enough people try.
You don't have to rid your house of all plastic toys to reduce your child's exposure to toxins, or boycott all plastics in your house; but you can make a choice for the future. Make a start by only purchasing toys made with alternative natural materials, such as sustainable wood, and textiles.
Traditionally, children's parties have been one of the worst contributors to the ever growing problem of landfill saturation due to the amount of disposable goods they use, but again you can make small changes for maximum benefits.
Carrier bags and party bags don't have to be made from plastics, why not choose natural cotton drawstring bags, which can be reused? Party bag toys don't have to be cheap disposable toys from the pound shop, it's better to invest in a single toy your child's friends will love than a bag full of rubbish they won't. Not only that, it doesn't have to cost the earth (pun intended!) there are many sustainable wooden toys such as spinning tops, pencils and pretty wooden jewelry starting from as little as £1.
With more and more options for a greener lifestyle becoming available, now is the time to choose goods with a conscience, both for your child and the future sustainability of the environment.