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Recycled Plastic Toys. Is this the right direction?

During these unprecedented times I am using the opportunity to think ahead to when I re-open my shop and what new brands and products would be great to add to the shelves and website.

When I visited the London Toy Fair in January, there was a noticeable increase in toy companies trying to promote more environmental credentials which was good to see. But finding an alternative to plastic for many of the global toy companies is a big challenge. Whilst Lego are throwing $150 million into the problem (and disappointingly only coming up with using sugarcane based ‘plant plastic’ so far), it was clear that many are looking to replace current toys with using recycled plastic instead.

Making and selling toys using recycled plastic seems like a great idea to ease the environmental pressure the planet is under, especially if those same toy companies accept back the toys at the end of their life to be recycled again to avoid them going to landfill and incinerators. So, this has been something I’ve debated in my head about stocking since I opened my doors. But I always come back to the issue that the plastic problem is not just an environmental one.

There are already health concerns about the chemicals used within plastic toys that children then absorb through their mouths and skin. The majority contain PVC or phthalates that cause endocrine (hormone) disruption, preservatives and formaldehyde, respiratory irritants linked to asthma and allergies and Naphthalene and its chemical cousins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are strongly suspected to cause cancer. Worryingly, despite regulations in place and border controls, toys made to unsafe levels of these chemicals are still slipping regularly through and finding their way into our children’s hands.

More worryingly, the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) made up of 550 NGOs, carried out research in 2017 into chemicals within children’s toys made from recycled plastics and found alarming results. They discovered a widespread problem of high levels of some of our most hazardous chemicals including brominated dioxins together with brominated flame retardants (from the shells of discarded electronic devices) recycled into toys.

“The EU has been pushing for the promotion of recycling for quite a long time and it is a very good strategy to save resources, however the presence of brominated flame retardants – and some of them have been banned in the EU for quite some time – shows that these toxic chemicals are actually entering the recycling stream and coming back to the EU in new products.”

Brominated dioxins and flame retardants are known to affect brain development, damage the immune system and unborn children, increase the risk of cancer, risk disruption of the thyroid function and are linked to ADHD and neurodevelopmental disorders.

There are of course exemplary toy companies who are leading the way in using recycled materials and have complete control and oversight of their supply chain. But it seems that until more regulation is put in place to control the mixing of recycled materials, it remains a minefield. A minefield I will continue to avoid.

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