Toys made from sustainable sources, including renewable wood with water-based finishes, natural and organic-cotton plush toys, and toys colored with vegetable dyes instead of paint are among the latest toy trends. But buyer beware: Some “eco” claims carry more weight than others.
Not all “green” toy claims can be substantiated. There’s no standard defini¬tion for the term “natural,” for example, except as it applies to meat and poultry. And fabric toys labeled “100 percent organic” are only required to meet USDA organic standards that refer to how the fiber was grown, not to the processes by which it was made into cloth.
Some manufacturers have obtained special certifications to differentiate their natural or organic products so you can be more assured of their meaning. Fat Brain Toys (www.fatbraintoys.com), for example, features some plush toys made from 100 percent-certified organic cotton and Oeko-Tex-certified dyes, which means that the finished fabric, not just the original cotton, is free from harmful levels of substances known to be detrimental to human health, such as formaldehyde. We haven’t tested any “organic” toys, though, to determine if they are, in fact, healthier for babies.
Similarly, Toys “R” Us has a line of Natural Wooden Toys made from materials certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a nonprofit organization that sets standards for forest management. FSC certification means that the wood was grown according to the group’s 56 environmental, social, and economic criteria, and that a third-party certifier verified those criteria were met. According to Toys “R” Us, 100 percent of the wood in the toys is FSC-certified and can be traced back to its source. The FSC label is only somewhat meaningful in terms of the environmental impact of a product with this designa¬tion. Keep in mind, so-called “natural” wood is in no way healthier or safer for your child, although it might be more sustainable.
For more information about the Forest Stewardship Council and other eco-labels, see the Eco-labels center at greenerchoices.org, Consumers Union’s free Web-based resource for information about environmentally friendly products and practices.