The Green Toy Box

By Shannon Eis

greentoys-recycling-truckThe word “toy box” usually conjures thoughts of a cluttered stash of Technicolor plastic at the mercy of your child’s play whims. Many of those toys, and their battery support group, will sing, flash and move at the touch of a button. But some families are looking for alternatives – whether it’s basic play patterns that foster imagination or more natural toy components that provide an eco-piece of mind.

Much like other industries, the toy industry has explored new materials that ensure products are safe while also delivering value and entertainment. Some new materials being used in eco-friendly toys may surprise you – like soy bean ink, recycled milk cartons, bio-composite materials and solar panels. But other materials are tried and true such as wood, bamboo, water-based paint and in some cases, metal. The goal for every “green” toymaker is to create a safe, eco-conscious, kid-powered product that is often times handmade and always built to last.

Here are a few that we think fit the bill:

Green Toys Inc. makes a great line of classic children’s toys constructed from recycled milk containers which, plastic geeks may know, are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), widely considered to be one of the safest and cleanest plastics around. Maybe if our milk came served in one of their fancy Tea Sets I’d be able to get my daughter to drink more of it. And we also like their Recycling Truck which is a way to start an exciting conversation with your kids about waste management.

You can’t go wrong with any of the natural, hand-made products from Plan Toys. Their Dancing Alligator has been clanking behind my toddler son for months now and shows no sign of wear despite its many tumbles down the stairs and trips to the mailbox.

Innovation doesn’t have to be sacrificed in your quest for eco-friendly play. OWI Inc. has developed some very cool kits that let kids build their own solar-powered robots. Most of their products do include plastic of some sort, like the Peppy Orangutan, but you get the alternative energy and cost-saving benefit of solar power which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Go outside and play”.

habaEco-friendly toys are very popular with parents of very young children and there is a wonderful array of companies who are tirelessly committed to creating products that parents trust. Haba products are a must-have for any new parents, and another company, Boikido, has a name that pretty much says it all. “Bois” is French for “wood” and “Kido” means “kids”. So loosely translated, their name and philosophy is “Wood for kids”.

puffydragon-rideon1Classic play patterns have really benefited from a return to sustainable materials and eco-conscious manufacturing. The Puffy Dragon Ride-On by Smart Gear is a visually-appealing product that any parent with a living room full of toys could appreciate; and Planet Pixies from Planet Toy are helping educate and empower a generation of young girls to take care of their planet, with their dolls at their side.

These and many other products can be found online or at your local toy store. If eco-friendly products are a priority, be sure to check out your neighborhood specialty toy stores as they often carry a broader assortment of these non-mass items that are sourced from smaller, eco-passionate toy makers around the world.

As is the case with any fad, the success or failure of it depends on the masses – in this case, parents – believing that it has the power to change lives. An eco-friendly toy may not save lives, but they are perhaps the earliest example that we set for our children on how to make a small difference.

Does your child have a favorite “green” toy? Share it with our readers.

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As the author of TimeToPlayMag.com’s ‘The Mannered Mom’ etiquette column, contributing editor Shannon Eis shares manageable parenting how-to’s for everyday situations. She has been in the toy industry for more than ten years, previously working with the Toy Industry Association as assistant communications director, and is a widely recognized toy and parenting resource, also appearing regularly on the Late Show with David Letterman as their toy and technology expert. She and her family reside in New York City. You can find and follow Shannon at www.timetoplaymag.com or on Twitter.