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Don't Let Toxic Toys Grinch Your Holiday!

Monday, December 13, 2010

By Lisa Frack with Sonya Lunder

There may be 12 days of Christmas and eight days of Hannukah, but EWG has boiled the shopping hullabaloo down to the number five: five ways to detox your holiday shopping. And, no, our list does not include a golden ring. (We're not keen on jewelry for kids.)

Finding great gifts for the kids in your life should be fun. Yet there are toxic chemicals in children's toys that simply shouldn't be there and there's no guarantee that what's on the shelf is necessarily safe. We've seen progress in recent years (specifically the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which strengthened rules and tightened oversight on lead and phthalates), but our laws have a l-o-n-g way to go.

Which is why we whipped up these simple but important toy shopping tips:

Books make wonderful gifts - especially when they're used. Amazon has an extensive used collection and EWG benefits when you shop through our unique Amazon link. Of course there's always the local used book shop, too!

Say no to disposables. Choose toys made to last. They may cost more, but disposable toys waste your money (which = your time, right?).

Give activities, not things. Take your child to a play or a favorite restaurant, or sign her up for that gymnastics class. Time together and special activities make wonderful, non-toxic gifts!

Rediscover game night. It's an easy way to make family time. Share your beloved childhood games - chess, checkers, backgammon, Scrabble, parchesi, mah-jong, bingo, Life, Jenga, Connect Four, Yahtzee, Uno, and, of course, cards. Remember to keep small pieces away from little hands and mouths.

Encourage outside play. Kids love and need to play outdoors (and plenty say they don't do it often enough). Encourage them to head for fresh air with fun outdoor equipment like sleds, soccer and dodge balls (and goal posts!), snow shoes and skis, roller skates, skateboards, bikes, jump ropes - even pogo sticks! Give helmets, too, and make sure the kids wear them.

Think twice about battery-operated toys. Batteries contain heavy metals, so the fewer we use the better! If you must, grab some rechargeable batteries and a charger.

  1. No cheap jewelry. Some baubles contain the toxic metals lead or cadmium, and plenty of kids (young and old) chew and even swallow them. Earlier this year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission advised parents to throw out their kids' cheap jewelry because the odds were high it contained toxic substances.
  2. Choose arts and craft supplies carefully. Many contain toxic chemicals. Read labels closely - but keep in mind that these products aren't sufficiently regulated, tested or labeled to ensure safety for children. Here are a few to watch out for:
    Paint. Paints should be water-based and colored with natural, non-metal pigments. Oil paints contain toxic solvents.

    Clay. Don't buy polymer clays that stay soft at room temperature or can be hardened in a home oven -- they're made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and often contain phthalates.

    Coloring. Common crayons often contain paraffin wax, a petrochemical product. Look for alternatives like soy and beeswax. Don't buy dry-erase and permanent markers, which contain solvents. No plastic-encased crayons. No scented markers: scents encourage kids to sniff them, but those fragrances contain chemicals that are not listed on the label.

  3. Get creative! Give a little differently:
  4. Six ideas to get you thinking about gifts that don't require a toxic analysis:
  5. Simplify your approach to non-toxic shopping. It can be frustrating - if not downright impossible - to figure out what this year's "must have" toy is made of. Instead, ignore fads and buy items you know aren't toxic. Work from a list you trust, like HealthyStuff.org or U.S. PIRG's Toy Safety Tips. And shop where you can get straight answers. Of course, the fewer gifts you buy, the fewer you have to research.
  6. Shift your traditions to raise a greener generation. Parents have an opportunity to shape the next generation's holiday traditions - and tamp down commercialism. Some ideas: draw names for large families so there are fewer gifts to give, agree to a dollar limit, or shop at resale shops.

And about those holiday lights - the cords usually contain lead, so kids should wash their hands after handling them (with plain soap and water). Sad, but true.

Most of all, have fun! Don't let the threat of toxic chemicals in toys get your holiday spirit down!

 

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