Can plastic toys pose a toxic risk?

Most people, including myself, get toys passed down from family and friends. Re-using plastic toys means there’s less plastic being manufactured and filling up landfill or polluting the environment. Choosing the right toys contribute to your child development. As parents, we should be aware of toys risks before buying them for our kids. Second hand toys may be appealing as they are a lot cheaper than new ones. Plastic toys may have more colour possibilities than the conventional toy making materials like clay, metals, ceramic and wood. 

So why is not recommendable to use second hand plastic toys?

Toys are not only a way to keep our children entertained, they learn about their environment and the world around them through toys. For small children is by putting them in their mouths which is a key developmental stage. Putting toys and other household objects in their mouth allows them to discover taste and texture of different objects.

Certain chemical additives are needed to manufacture toys. This can be to make plastic rigid, soft, flexible, lacquer to protect the surface (in wooden toys, for example) or paint finishes. Some of these additives are known be toxic to humans, wildlife and environment. These chemicals can leach out of plastic and be digested, entering the blood stream. Exposure to particular chemical additives are linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments. For example children can be exposed to phthalates by chewing on soft vinyl toys or similar products, unless they are labeled as PVC-free or phthalate-free.

The focus on plastic is typical around the recycling (check out why can’t plastic toys be recycled?) but in all this promoting of recycling it doesn’t show the other side to plastics. The chemicals and the health issues they pose.

The markings used to identify plastic can be used to understand the additives used to to make them. Plastic toys, should have an arrow triangle shaped mark with a number inside on the bottom. This number can help consumers identify the type of plastic used to make the toy with a little research and help. You can see the full number marking at types-of-plastics.

The number system runs from one to seven. Top used plastics are assigned to the first six numbers. The seventh number is used to capture all other types. Creation of new types of plastics is continual and 100’s of types exist to serve a purpose.

Plastics marked with #1, #2, # 4 and #5 are forms of polyethylene.  Number three is polyvinyl chlorine which may contain phthalates. Number six is polystyrene which contains Styrene and Benzene.  Finally number seven which are mostly polycarbonate.  This issue with number seven is it’s design to capture all other plastics so may contain plastics with BPA.

Basic additives and the health concerns:

  • Dioxins: Which are sometime generated unintentionally due to incomplete combustion (when recycling and burning of PVC plastics). Dioxins are considered some of the most toxic poisons known to humans, and can harm our neurological, reproductive, developmental, and hormonal systems. They persist in the environment and pass to our food and breastmilk.
  • Phthalates: This class of chemicals is used to make plastics like PVC more flexible and can be found in teether’s. It has been linked to numerous health problems, including cancer, endocrine disruption, development delays, and reproductive system damage.
  • Bisphenol-A (BPA):  This chemical is used in the manufacturing of rigid, hard plastics like those used for baby bottles and some baby toys and pacifiers. It is persistent in the environment and our bodies too, and has been known to damage cells in breasts, uteruses, and prostate, and can increase developmental disorders (such as ADHD) and nervous system problems. It has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes.
  • Styrene and Benzene:  suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins that are hazardous to humans. However it is hot foods and liquids start a partial breakdown of the Styrofoam, causing toxins to be absorbed into our bloodstream and tissue.
  • Lead and cadmium compounds: act as stabilisers in plastics and can also be used to in pigments to give bright colours to toys in order to attract children. Cadmium shows up frequently in children’s products particularly in children’s jewellery, toys with batteries and paint coatings. These impact nearly all systems in the body, including cardiovascular, reproductive, the kidneys, eyes, and even the brain.

What is EN71 toy safety and why it is important?

All toys placed on the market after 20 July 2013 must fulfil the Toys Safety Directive’s and chemical requirements. This is to keep consumers safe and some requirements are continuously  being tightened since the original directive. A toy maker must abide by this to be able to sell the toy in Europe.

There are also other chemical requirements for toys, apart from those in the Toys Safety Directive. Such as; REACH Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006, restrictions on phthalates in toys, RoHS Directive (2002/95/EC) restrictions for heavy metals and brominated flame retardants in electronics.

The Toys Safety Directive bans substances that exceed certain concentrations that are carcinogenic, harmful to genetic material (mutagenic) or substances which can interfere with reproductive capacity (toxic for reproduction). Substances must not be used in accessible parts in toys. The inaccessible parts are also subject to the ban if the substance can be inhaled. Also included are 55 allergenic fragrances that have been banned from use in toys in concentrations in excess of 100 mg/kg (100 ppm).

Why choosing a toy company you can trust?

Many toy makers aren’t yet aware of what’s needed to sell toys. Others may look to save cost by not testing. Testing can be done in two ways. The first is sending the toy to a accredited laboratory (which can be expensive). The second option is self certification where the toy maker put the test though a series of tests themselves. The second option toy makers can be part of a membership like hand made toys, which can guide them though CE marking and regulation testing that is required. 

Are Wooden toys the answer?

Wooden toys typically don’t contain any chemical-filled plastics.  They are also normally low tech therefore also don’t contain electronics or batteries are hidden away for your kids to try and find them. 

Purchasing a Curvy balance board not only are you getting a toy that is it made of FSC natural wood making it sustainable, the protective lacquer has been tested to ensure its safety meets EN71-3. Furthermore it also meets REACH and 174 substances in the Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC). Passing all these tests with no detections on these banned substances beyond the requirements needed. 

Curvy balance board was tested using an internationally trusted laboratory that is recognised by accredited bodies. This provides us with the confidence that our customers can use our toys without worries. Let your toddler happily put Curvy in their mouth and explore those textures, sooth toothing, messy eating or share food with an older sibling. Just make sure to wipe it clean with a clean cloth to remove any harmful bacteria for your kids to safely play with the board 😉. 

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