I've started my Christmas shopping but the toy stores send me in a spin! I'm worried about the potential dangers of plastic playthings, what are some alternatives to these mass-produced toys?
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Chances are that the toys at the top of kids' Christmas lists this year won't be coming from the North Pole; it's far more likely that they'll arrive in hulking container ships from China, which dominates the world toy production market.
China is also where many of the 'toxic toys' stories in the press have originated. In 2007, manufacturers Disney and Mattel were all forced to recall toys on sale around the world that had been made in China, including 500,000 in Australia.
Mattel had to pull 18 million products, including some Barbie goods because some of the doll's accessories were found to contain dangerously high levels of lead. Lead can cause problems such as anaemia and muscle weakness if ingested in large quantities.
Many concerns over plastic toys relate to phthalates, petroleum-based chemicals that are commonly added to plastic to make them flexible. However, phthalates have also been connected to childhood asthma and reproductive disorders.
So what are the alternatives? More and more companies have begun addressing the issue of 'toxic toys' with some of the bigger brands such as Lego and Playmobil taking steps to phase our toxic chemicals across their products.
However, for healthy alternatives look for toys made from natural cloth, wood, rubber, biodegradable, recyclable and/or recycled materials.
Toys with certified ethical standards, for example Fair Trade certified or that carry the FSC logo (meaning they come from sustainably managed forests) are also a good bet.
There are a number of websites in Australia such as Eco Toys (www.ecotoys.com.au) and Honeybee (www.honeybeetoys.com.au) that stock a wide range of toys for all ages that are safe for both kids and the planet.
It's also worth looking at charities such as Oxfam (www.oxfamshop.org.au) that sell products, including children's toys that support fair trade.