Toys generate a huge amount of waste in the world and in my experience it’s the hardest area to reign in, particularly if the horse has already bolted. Like most kids in the overdeveloped world mine have too many toys. This wasn’t done intentionally but they just seemed to pile up after birthdays and Christmases despite my efforts. If you find yourself having to buy toys here are some suggestions on how to make more planet positive choices.
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Image source: A Reusable Life
Quality over Quantity
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the choice that exists in the world? Well we’re not the only ones. A study in the University of Toledo in 2018 established that the more toys a child had the less imaginative their play is and that fewer toys may help toddlers focus better and play more creatively (Source: returntonow.net. So bear this in mind next time you’re exposed to those puppy dogs eyes in the toy aisle
My kids are still into toys but at their age it’s nigh-on impossible to buy them sustainable ethical toys. The market seems to be mostly focused on babies and toddlers, with very little on offer for kids over 6. I always prefer to buy pre-loved where I can and with toys it’s no different. We have saved an absolute fortune by buying toys in charity shops and second-hand from adverts.ie, Facebook Marketplace or Ebay. Not only does this conserve the planet’s energy and resources, doing so also reduced our kids’ exposure to the dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) from new plastic toys – think of that new plastic smell, and toxic chemicals.
When buying second hand toys buy well know brands that you know have been tested for safety, and if hygiene is a concern throw soft toys in the washing machine or wipe them with milton or vinegar. And don’t be put off my broken or incomplete toys. Orchard Toys offer a free replacement service on it’s games for UK customers and you can buy replacement lego pieces to complete sets. Also the 3D printing platform Dagoma has a whole host of files for printable replacement toy parts. You’d just download and print yourself or bring to your local library or 3D printing shop. And if you’ve a precious teddy that needs some tlc contact the Teddy Bear Hospital in Cavan.
I did suggest a toy rental scheme to my kids but they were having none of it – they’re very sentimental / materialistic and get quite attached to their toys. There’s a nationwide wooden toy rental by Dlulukaloo. and a toy box subscription scheme for 0-4 years by Loop Toys. If you’re in Carrickmacross check out their toy library and in the UK you’ve the toy rental scheme run by Whirli.
If you’re buying a gift for someone who wouldn’t appreciate a pre-loved item, or a non-physical gift like an experience, then the next best option is to buy from companies doing their best to lesson their impact on the planet. In this article I’ve loosened up my criteria for ‘sustainable and ethical’, primarily because beyond toys for babies and toddlers there’s very few companies operating in this market. As always I aim to give as much info as possible so that you can decide for yourself which company suits your values best.
One word of wording though before you start perusing. I noticed that not all companies state whether they meet safety regulations. In Ireland we’d be most familiar with the CE Marking , which is a manufacturer’s declaration that their toys meet the essential requirements of the European Toy Safety Directive (TSD) 88/378/eec. That said a joint customs and market surveillance operation by four EU countries in 2018 found that more than a third of toys checked contained illegal levels of phthalates and that 92% of the offending items carried the CE marking that indicates conformity with health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area. So be careful what you buy and who you buy from.
Following on from last week’s article on handmade presents I want to start my list of sustainable ethical toys with Alice and Rose Handmade Toys who make well-priced stunning cutest crochet toys right here in Ireland.
Crawcraft Beasties are made in Ireland using 100% natural fibre yarns, and as much non-synthetic felts, fabrics and threads as possible.
Next is Irish company Fairthreads who sell certified Fairtrade organic crocheted toys made in Bangladesh.
Organic cotton kids clothing maker Frugi in the UK have a range of machine washable Froogli soft toys made from organic cotton velour with recycled polyester filling.
UK based Sense Organics, another organic clothing brand, also offer a small range of vegan organic cotton soft toys with cotton filling.
Wooly Organic use 100% organic cotton from Turkey and 100% corn fibre filling from Italy to make soft toys in Latvia. They also use only trusted European manufacturers in order to stay as local as possible from thread to packaging. Their packaging is also mostly card.
My Wondercube is a toy designed by a mum in the UK, made from organic cotton and manufactured in a fairtrade factory in India. The toy meets European toy safety requirements (EN71) and carries the CE marking of quality assurance. The company use recycled packaging wherever we can.
German company Kathe Kruse make a range of organic soft toys, some with organic filling.
Nanchen in Germany make soft dolls from organic materials. You can buy their dolls from UK based online retailers Baba Me Newry Ltd, Conscious Craft, MamaOwl, The Organic Toy Company and myriad natural toys
Pebble Child is a UK based company that works with poor women’s group in Bangladesh to make fair trade toys from cotton, filled with polyester. According to the companies website Pebble have been working in partnership with the USAID’s CREL project and Winrock to redirect poor women away from depleting natural resources for their livelihoods and towards knitting.
From Babies with Love make wooden toys from sustainable sourced wood and soft toys from organic cotton and upcycled material filling.
The world famous bear brand Steiff have a range of teddies made with organic cotton filled with organic cotton & recycled polyester.
Wooden toys are a favourite with eco-savvy parents of small children but not all wooden toys are equal. Even if the wood has been sustainably sourced, i.e. FSC certified, has it been painted with non-toxic paints free of heavy metals? have the makers of those toys been paid or treated fairly? what is the waste management policy of the manufacturer? Worry not, here are some brands that address all those issues and more.
Flutter Tree is an Irish company that makes play kits from 100% natural birchwood that you can colour in yourself.
Saturday Workshop in Dublin 4, Ireland make toys from sustainable Irish beech painted with ‘child-friendly’ paint for children >3.
Wild Child Toys handmake balancing wooden blocks for kids & adults from offcuts from a joinery company. They plant one tree planted for every set sold
Alphabet Jigsaws has been creating original handcrafted wooden jigsaw puzzles from sustainably sourced wood, painted by hand using non-toxic acrylic paints since 1997. The puzzles are designed in the West of Ireland, and produced in a rural part of Sri Lanka by the same family for nearly twenty years. The factory was inspected and certified under the Ethical Trade Initiative in 2007 and dermined to be a fair and regulated environment.
Plan Toys (see first photo) are made from rubber trees that no longer produce latex. To keep the wood pure, no fertilizer is added to the soil three years prior to the trees being cut down and the wood is dried in a chemical-free kiln. Their toys are assembled using a certified E-Zero formaldehyde free glue in place of traditional toxic wood glue and painted with organic colours and dyes free of heavy metals. They also print on recycled paper using soy-based ink. PlanToys is a carbon neutral company, which they achieved by planting trees, and using left-over wood from production in their biomass generator to produce electricity for the whole factory and surrounding villages. The company states that their toys fulfil or exceed the European (EN71) and American (ASTM) safety requirements. Nimble Fingers in Stillorgan, Co Dublin and Designist in Dublin 2 are two suppliers of them in Ireland.
Hape Toys is a US brand and is the world’s largest producer of wooden toys, mostly from bamboo with durable plastic parts. The company states that they minimise energy consumption, and packaging options as much as possible and that they’ve installed a water purification system that utilizes limited or no chemicals to allow them discharge clean water from the factory. The following are retailers of Hape Toys in Ireland; Mimi Toys, Littledreamers.ie, Duffy’s Toyworld in Co Louth.
Grimms Toys in Germany make wooden toys from FSC certified European timber finished with harmless colours and oil. The fabric used on their dolls is are Oeko-Tex certified, i.e. free from toxic chemicals and some of their products are made in cooperation with people with disabilities. The company states that they try to keep packaging to an absolute minimum and that all of their products, including the colour and oil they use, meet the European standard for safety of toys (EN71) and the US standards.
Grapat Toys in Spain makes wooden toys from sustainably grown beech and birch. The dyes they use are water based and non-toxic, even if chewed! All the finishes are made with waxes and oils of vegetable origin and the cloth bags given with some toys are made from off-cuts from other manufacturers. The company also work with people with mental illness. They state that all of their materials comply with the safety regulations of the EN71-1-2-3 Toy and that the dyes comply with the European safety regulations of the Toy EN / 71-3: 2014 + A1: 2014 / 2013.
Ostheimer Toys in Germany are handcrafted from sustainable local timber finished with organic oil. The company works with people with disabilities in the community.
Lanka Kade is a UK company that made fairtrade toys in Sri Lanka. They state that they raw materials from sustainable resources where possible and find alternative uses for waste. They also use solar energy at their UK office.
Spielzeug Manufaktur is a family run German maker of handmade wooden and felt toys that are available to buy in the National History Museum in Dublin 2 and Birr Castle. The toys are made with non-toxic dyes that comply with the standard DIN EN 71. Their felt is locally sourced wool felt and their fabric toys are made from cotton.
UK based Tender Leaf Toys make toys from rubber trees at the end of their latex producing life, which other would have been burned. For every tree that is felled a new one is planted. The entire manufacturing process takes place in one 30 year old factory, Mentari, in Indonesia, which Tender Leaf Toys spend 6-8 weeks in a year.
Ecological toys in the Czech Republic makes toys locally using sustainably harvest local timber. The toys have some toxin-free, water based decoration but are mostly left natural. They are mailed in paper and card-based packaging.
Green Toys are made in the USA from recycled plastic milk jugs, which they state have confirmed to international standards for BPA and phthalates. Their packaging is kept to a minimum, fully recyclable (or recycled) and their boxes are printed with soy ink. They only thing i have reservations on is the potential for cross contamination. I know the company state that they’re within international standards, but what does that mean! Weirs on Baggot St, D2 and Designist in D2 sell Green Toys. I’ve heard that these toys appear in TK Max stores from time to time.
Bioblo straddles the wooden / plastic toy category by being 60% sawdust from sustainably-managed fir and spruce forests in Austria and Germany, 35% recycled high-quality plastic drinking cups from Germany (free from plasticisers, PVC, BPA, or other harmful elements) and 5% environmentally-friendly colours from Slovenia (both organic and inorganic but all free of heavy metals). They come in a cardboard box. They are available to buy from Jiminiy.ie and The Cotton Drawer
Irish company Fair threads, mentioned above, also sell certified fairtrade Bala footballs. The company says that the Bala Pro football is made to the same standards as FIFA Approved and the Astro and Team balls are made and tested to the same standards as FIFA Inspected balls.
Toys for Older Kids
My kids lost total interest in wooden toys by the age of 6 children but this one might keep kids engaged for longer. I came across the US toy Keva Planks, on the blog of a home schooler in America. On the face of it they sound like the most boring toy ever but these wooden planks come with are tonnes of guides on how to create amazing structures with it, so much so that a Keva community has emerged. Keva Planks are available from Cogs the Brain Shops in St Stephens Green SC, D2.
Tegu is a another brand of wooden blocks and plants but this time with the added feature of being magnetic. Made in Hondurus by an independent toy company from FSC certified sustainable hardwood as part of a Tegu reforestation programme, they are painted with non-toxic, water based lacquers and can be bought from the website Baipur.
Another wooden ‘toy’ but for older hands are these stunning wooden mechanical kits from Ugear. They’re made entirely from wood, with no glue or batteries required. I particularly love this mechanical box design because it will hopefully be used after being constructed and not languish in a corner as happens with most construction kits after completion.
I was very excited to hear about Planet Junko, a kit designed and made in the UK from recycled plastic that allows you to create from existing materials. You can buy via Amazon and I believe Irish Eco Toy retailer Jiminy may be stocking them in the future.
Marbushka in Hungary make beautifully designed board games with paper certified as being sustainably grown by FSC and PEFC organizations, and the cardboards in their games are made of 90% recycled paper. They also use natural paints to colour their wooden components and with the exception of printing and binding, the production of all Marbushka games are made by hand, meaning lower energy consumption. Their supply chain and retailers are all small independently owned or family-run businesses. They also do a stunning range of wooden headed dolls. You can buy their products from Designist in Dublin 2 and Jiminy. I bought one of their games Christmas 2019 but unfortunately we couldn’t make head-nor-tails of the instructions, which is such a shame. I contacted the company and they offered to explain it to me over the telephone but I declined because really what we needed was clearer written instructions.
Love, love, love this ‘Guess who’ inspired game of powerful women from history called Who’s She? by Playeress. The game is available in wood or cardboard, both of which are assembled by hand in Poland, Warsaw
I’m a big fan of books as presents, but some kids, including my own, are not but so be warned. If you’re looking for some eco-conscious check out Penguin publisher’s article on 7 Eco Books for Young Readers. I also love this pop-up book by Usborne called How the World Works. The same author and illustrator have also written / drawn books on ‘How the Weather Works’ and ‘How we make Stuff’.
E-tailers in Ireland and Europe
If you can’t pick up toys from bricks and mortar shops (which is the more sustainable option) then check out these e-tailers of E-tailers of sustainable ethical toys in Ireland and Europe. They sell some of the brands listed above and are a good way to compare prices.
- Jiminy (Ireland) sells eco toys and craft kids to suit kids of all ages.
- Discovery Playtime (Ireland) sells quite a few wooden toys and have some bio-plastic toys too.
- My Cotton Drawer (Ireland) sells brands bioblo, Biobuddi, Rubens Barn, Alphabet Jigsaws, Junko, and Stuka Puka.
- Annie Pooh (Ireland) sells brands Bioblo, Animal Pals and Petite Collage. She now has a store in Greystones, Co Wicklow.
- Snuggle Fox (Ireland) – sells some of the brands here, mostly to suit <5, except for a wood carving set which would possibly suit older hands
- Mira Mira (Dublin 4, Ireland) sells Plan Toys
- Wooden Heart (Ireland) sells some of the brands listed above for children under 7
- My Eco Hub shop (Ireland) sells science based learning kits
- Educational Toys (Pick up Dublin 12, Ireland) sells some of the brands listed here for ages under 8
- Little Ones (Clare, Ireland) sells some of the brands listed here for under 7s
- Envirotoy (UK) sell some of the brands listed here for under 7s
- Good Things (UK) sell a range of eco toys
- Oxfam (UK) have a website where you can buy branded second-hand toys that have been donated to them.
- Conscious Craft (UK) have a huge selection of wooden toys and soft toys from brands Osteimer, Grimm’s, Nanchen, Wooden Story, Tegu, Tomtect, Kapla, Plan Toys, Kenana Knitters and Corvus.
- Kidly in the UK sell toys for under 5s
- One Hundred Toys (UK) – this company sells toys that suit under 3’s
- Myriad Toys (UK) – this company has lots of toys for under 3’s and a few toys that would suit 7-9 age bracket
- Toby Tiger (UK) has a large range of wooden toys, some of which are organic for under 5’s
- The Ethical Market (UK) is a good place to search out handmade toys made in the UK
- Etsy (America) is another good place to search for handmade toys by country
- The Natural Store (UK) has small number of wooden and arts and craft toys for under 5’s
- Ethical Superstore (UK) has fairtrade toys, solar powered toys, wooden toys and recycled plastic toys for under 12’s
- Natural Collection (UK) has fairtrade toys, solar powered toys, wooden toys and recycled plastic toys for under 12’s
- Boobalou (UK) offer fairtrade wooden toys for under 5’s
- Baipur (UK) sells a huge range of fairtrade toys, organic toys and wooden toys for under 5’s
- Baba Me/ Fluff Heaven (UK) sell organic soft toys, wooden toys and recycled plastic toys for under 5s
- Little Green Angels (UK) sell wooden toys and fairtrade wooden toys and crocheted cotton soft toys by Lanka Kade for under 5s
- The Organic Toy Shop (UK) sell toys by Nanchen, Under the Nile, Naturest Purest, Maud n Lil, Keptin Jr, Steif, Wooly Organic, My Wonder Cube and others.
- Conscious Craft (UK) stock a fantastic range of sustainable ethical toys and craft kits for all ages.
- Myriad Toys (UK) stock a range of organic toys and ‘fair traded’, which you’ll find by using the search option on their website. For some reason they use the term ‘fair traded’ instead of Fairtrade so use that term when searching
- Mama Owl (UK) sell toys by Nanchen, Ostheimer, Grimms, Grapat and others.
If you’re buying toys as a birthday present and want to try your hand at a homemade card these homemade animal cards for kids from Wee Society come with printable templates and are sooooo cute.