That 'Natural' Plastic Toy Might Not Be As Organic As You Think It Is

How many of his toys did your child cram into his mouth today? And what were those toys made of, exactly? "Plastic" is the obvious answer -- but what kind of plastic, and what chemicals were in it? One mother wrote for the Atlantic about her quest to figure out what kinds of plastic were in her child's toys.


Like many conscientious consumers, Jamie Passaro was concerned about what kinds of materials had gone into the making of her daughter's dolls. As many parents do, she was worried about the possibility that the plastics that composed one toy or another might contain unpleasant chemicals that could leach into her daughter's body if she idly crammed a doll's arm into her mouth while playing; and she was also worried about the ecological impact created by the construction of any plastic object.

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But when toy company websites and customer service didn't have the answers she wanted, Passaro went farther than most parents would. Since she was specifically concerned about her daughter's favorite "realistic" plastic baby doll (Hasbro's "Baby Alive") and how well it would stack up against a doll from a "natural" toy company, she went so far as to scrape samples of the plastic from the doll's legs and send them to a lab for analysis. And what she found surprised her. Not only was the "plastic" doll actually made from a kind of rubber, the "natural" doll was actually made of polyester -- a type of plastic! Even more conflicting, the rubber doll was unlikely to stain, and could simply be wiped clean in case of a spill; whereas the clothlike polyester baby doll would probably need a trip through the wash -- leading to an even bigger ecological footprint from what was supposed to be a more natural choice.

Passaro's findings aren't intuitive, and if anything, they suggest that we need a lot more transparency in toy labels and packaging. For one thing, if your natural, organic toy is actually made from the same material as a bottle of Coca-Cola, what are you actually gaining by spending the time and money trying to make a conscientious purchase? For another, why should it be so difficult for parents to know what they're exposing their kids to? The scientific data on issues caused by phthalates (which is a class of chemicals, really, and each different variety has different uses as well as different effects) is a mixed bag, but I don't think it's outlandish to ask for toy companies to do a better job labeling their products. Parents want to make informed decisions -- and that's hard to do when no one seems to have any information to offer.


Image © MelissaTG / Flickr

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