Toxic toys: a present you don’t want for your children

wooden toys - living in harmony with nature

Christmas is upon us, just a few hours away. When I think of Christmas I think of children and toys: the anticipation for the presents, the joy, the laughter and the play. People put a lot of time and effort in getting the right presents for their children. Kids nowadays are accustomed to write their letters to Santa, asking for everything under the sun.

As parents we want our children to play and have fun but do we look at how safe the toy is apart from the obvious, like if it’s age appropriate or nothing sharp for a younger child?

The illusion of choice

If you go to any toy store you will be confronted with a multitude of choices. Which toy to pick becomes a real pickle unless, of course, you know exactly what the particular child wants. Most of the children’s choices are influenced by their favourite TV shows or movies, advertising and the opinion of their peers. But under this apparent diversity of choices lies a hidden truth: choice is an illusion. Is it really a choice to pick between 50 different dolls made out of plastic?

Let’s imagine you have decided not to buy anything made out plastic. You will soon look at the enormous toy store with different eyes. There is not that much for you to choose from if you don’t want to buy plastic. Most of the toys lying in the shelves are made of plastic, in one form or another. In fact, you soon realise how little choice there is.

Plastic toys have become a big subject for me since becoming a mother. I never thought of plastic toys so much before or was even aware there was a problem with plastic.

So what is the problem with plastic toys, I hear you asking?

While I have seen several videos in which Americans say there are stricter regulations in Europe around phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA), I don’t believe plastic is safe. Maybe the plastic in Europe is less harmful than in America by current regulations but I don’t think there is such a thing as safe plastic. The very nature of how plastic is made says it all. Plastic is a synthetic polymer to which chemicals are added. The full extent to which these chemicals interact with humans is yet to be seen. As more research is conducted the extend of the problem will become increasingly apparent.

I don’t know you but I don’t want to wait 30 years for some research to prove that plastics are not safe and realised I exposed my child to it.

The attitude of companies that use plastic in products is one of hide and seek. As the public got alerted to the dangers of BPA they changed to a much worse chemical BPB, buying them time for a while until people found out about that.

I don’t think there is such a thing as safe plastic. Plastic is not natural, it’s synthetic and that’s why it cannot be really recycled.

What toys are widely available?

Plastic toys

Polyester toys

Most plush toys are made out of polyester. We don’t tend to think of these toys as plastic but that is what they are. Polyester is just another word for plastic.

I just recently found out that DuPont set out to eliminate the competition when they first came out. Their biggest competitor at the time was the material called canvas, which was highly durable and resistant, made out of the cannabis plant.

Cotton toys: cotton and GM cotton versus organic cotton toys

Some toys are made of cotton. One of the reasons I had for changing to organic cotton was when I learned that cotton is heavily sprayed with all kinds of chemicals.

More recently, I have come to the realisation of how widespread GM cotton is, also called Bt cotton or biotech cotton.

Genetically Modified (GM) cotton has been genetically modified to reduce reliance to pesticides by using a bacterium (Bt). However, insecticides may still be used as it is ineffective against many cotton pests.

It has been genetically modified to be resistant to insects and to glyphosate, a herbicide.

About 62% of GM cotton grown from 1996 to 2011 was insect resistant, 24% stacked (both insect and herbicide resistant) and 14% herbicide resistant. (source: Wikipedia)

In 2014 Biotech cotton or GM cotton represents 68% of the global market.

Organic cotton represents only 1.1% of the market.

I can safely assume that normal cotton would be the remaining 31%.

Clothes and toys are just labelled cotton but is it not a good chance that we are actually wearing GM cotton since it represents 68% of the cotton market?

Non-toxic alternatives

When I became aware of the problem with plastics I decided I didn’t want any plastic toys for my future baby so I started to look for more natural materials and non-toxic alternatives.

I also found out that the paint on toys can be toxic if it contains lead.

Most of these new alternatives are predominantly online, not on the high street.

I looked for wooden toys and organic cotton toys. I also found natural rubber toys from the Hevea tree a good alternative, made with non-toxic dyes. Lately, cardboard toys have emerged in response to the need for more natural toys.

wooden toys

I wanted her to play with safe toys that would stimulate her imagination, help her developed and she would fun with.

I also wanted to reduce the number of toys she would have. I have seen children with mountains of toys, mostly plastic, that have no appreciation for the toys and discard them after two minutes playing with them, which poses the question of how good the toy really is if the child has no interest in it. It is a problem because you end up with a load of toys to tidy up every day.

Most people are not aware of the problem with plastics

I found out however that no matter what, plastic still creeps into the box of toys, mostly through presents. In spite of telling people I don’t want any plastic and that I only buy organic cotton, the most common reaction is a lack of acceptance of my decision. Some people may not know about it, like acquaintances, and others just buy what they like.

The most common strategy is to give it to the child directly without asking for my opinion or consulting me first.

Taking the decision to go against the grain will invariably bring issues with the people around you that may not understand your decision. It brings issues of assertiveness, of how you want to live your life versus how others want you to live your life. It can also help you to simplify your life since you have fewer choices and to evaluate what’s really important, things like health and safety versus other people’s opinions of you.

Children don’t need many toys

You don’t need as many toys as you think. The old-time favourite in our house is playing with a cardboard box. A cardboard box can be anything and everything. It fuels their imagination. This has been one of the things she has consistently played more with, for at least the first 2 years.

High up on the list are playing with rocks, sticks, sand and water. She also loves walking on rocks. It is in this interaction with the natural world that they learn as they explore through play. Consider how much information a child gets playing with these things. They learn about different weights, textures and smells in a way that plastic can never provide such a rich sensory experience.

They love to play with real things. They prefer a real pot, a lid or a real spoon than toy ones. They will find whatever they are interested in, explore and play with it.

Most played toys

  • Books for reading, painting materials. 9 months- 3+
  • Natural rubber toys for the bath and for teething: Kelsie the seahorse and a duck. Sophie the Giraffe was really used when she was teething.
  • Wooden horse from Plan Toys 9 months-2


  • Construction blocks 2-3+ This is by far the toys she has played most with. She’s still loving it. She has a few different types but one of my favourites is the Fantasy Castle Blocks by Educo, that I fell in love with. Luckily, she also loves them. Two of the blocks have a bit of plastic, which annoyed me a tad.
  • 2.5-3+ hide and seek.
  • Now she’s 3+ the latest thing is she want to find a recipe and start cooking. She loves cracking eggs, making pasta and wants to make cake and jelly. Thanks to all the children’s books she reads it all seem to mention a cake, a bun. No wonder they want to eat cake. It’s everywhere. TV shows. It’s amazing how it directs the mind. If they are talking about an apple she wants an apple. Most of the times the thing mentioned in the cartoon or book is cake or sugar.

Some strategies

It’s so easy to get carried away with children’s toys because they are so cute. The child in you who didn’t have all these lovely, colourful toys to play with wants them all.

Some strategies I have used are:

  • Reduce the number of toys
  • Buy organic cotton toys
  • Buy wooden toys
  • Buy cardboard toys
  • Reuse: she has inherited a couple of my old toys. The best one my old doll cot from the 1970s, vintage now.
  • Buy second-hand: recently I found a wooden spinning top. I got a teddy in a charity shop, much better made than modern versions. She broke the head and I found out it’s filled with wool.
  • I often bought the toys in one go, saving time and money on delivery and then spreading them throughout the year.


Stop buying plastic toys

Consider this the next time you love something made out of plastic you simply must have:

  • Plastic would never look as good as when it’s new.
  • From the moment you buy it starts to look worse and deteriorate. It doesn’t age well.
  • Plastic is made of harmful chemicals that disrupt your hormonal system and affect your health.

This is the first year I’m buying her something and properly celebrating.

I bought:

  • A cardboard house she can paint because she loves painting. I recently let her use my acrylics and she was hooked on them. Previous to that she was using pencils and crayons. She is also into hide and seek and makeshift houses with cushions and towels under a chair. I just hope to make my life easier by buying something I can comfortably get into without banging my head.
  • An organic cotton toy from Lana Natural Wear because she doesn’t have that many and frankly it’s the first time I find a 100% organic cotton toy filled with organic new wool. Most often they are filled with polyester beads.

organic cotton toys

  • A couple of wooden toys: a measuring tape and a shoe with laces to learn how to tie shoelaces from Plan Toys.

I got the wooden and organic cotton toys in October with my nappy order from The Organic Cotton Shop. No hassle. No time wasted thinking what to buy or shopping. Delivered to my front door. What more can you ask for?

In fact, most of the toys I ever bought I got them in The Organic Cotton Shop. I am very thankful to them for providing me with the choice of purchasing healthy toys that my child can enjoy and the peace of mind of knowing that she is safe while she plays.


What are you going to buy this year? Would you like to be part of the solution or do you prefer to continue being part of the problem?

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