Toys can be a problem, particularly plastic toys. Children are vulnerable, and we parents obviously want to give them the best life possible. But when you find out about the plastic toy situation, you will be shocked. Luckily, there are loads of eco-friendly toy brands that offer us safer alternatives. Better for your children, better for the planet.
This post covers the entire situation. Bottomline? Opt for sustainable toys that are safe and fun for your kids to play with. Check out these links for some quick options:
Best Eco-friendly Toys for 1 year olds: Hape
Best Eco-friendly Toys for 2 year olds: Kinderfeets
- What is a Sustainable Toy?
- Secondhand Toys
- Eco-friendly Toys Brands & Toy Companies
- 1 // BRIO
- 2 // CLOCKWORK SOLDIER | UK
- 3 // GREEN TOYS | USA
- 4 // HABA
- 5 // Hape | Germany
- 6 // Janod | France
- 7 // Kapla | France
- 8 // Keva Planks | USA
- 9 // Kinderfeets | Netherlands
- 10 // Le Toy Van | UK & Indonesia
- 11 // Maple Landmark | USA
- 12 // MELISSA & DOUG
- 13 // ökoNORM | Germany
- 14 // OLLI ELLA | Australia
- 15 // PLAN TOYS | USA
- 16 // Tegu | Honduras
- 17 // Tender Leaf Toys | Indonesia
- 18 // Wishbone | New Zealand
What is a Sustainable Toy?
A sustainable toy is one that’s made of sustainable materials – wood, bamboo, etc. These materials are renewable, and generally sourced from sustainably managed forests. Sustainably made toys are manufactured in a minimally polluting manner, and ideally have a recycle program that they can be sent to when they have been used. Sustainable toys do not pollute the water bodies, air, and basically the surrounding environment.
Are wooden toys more sustainable?
Wooden toys are safer than the plastic alternatives, for sure. Wooden toys are sustainable, biodegradable, and, when purchased from an eco-friendly brand, are non-toxic.
How do plastic toys affect the environment?
Remember, plastic is a petroleum-based material. According to The World Counts, around 90% of toys in the market today are made of plastic. The toy industry uses about 40 tons of plastic for every $1 million it makes in revenue.
Now, pretty much all of the plastic toys ever made still exist. They are not biodegradable. They ju sit there – whether in landfills or at the back of your storage room – unchanged, unchanging, polluting. Or they get incinerated, and release toxic fumes into the atmosphere.
Now, you see how important non-plastic, sustainably made toys are.
What about new toys made from recycled plastic? Well, toys made from recycled plastic may not be the best option. This is mostly because the chemical composition of recycled plastic is an unknown factor. So toys made of recycled plastic cannot be certified to be safe for children to play with.
BTW, here’s where you can send your used toys (including nerf guns!) for recycling into other items.
How do plastic toys affect our children’s health?
Phthalates are used in the toy industry to soften toys. We know phthalates are linked to health issues such as cancer and diabetes, as well as birth defects. Health effects of other chemicals used in toy manufacturing is not really known, but suffice it to say, the effects are probably not good.
Toys in the pre-plastic era used to be made of wood, metal, cotton, and natural rubber. These materials are still much better alternatives to plastic. Remember that when you go toy shopping!
How many toys end up in landfills?
Guess what – 80% of all toys end up in landfills.
An eco-friendly option is to use pre-loved toys. Re-use, share, re-purpose. Whether these are hand-me-downs from within your family circle, or secondhand toys purchased at a store, they offer a couple of advantages.
Firstly, they’re much cheaper (or free!). Secondly, they aren’t brand new, and will have lost some of the potency of the chemicals that were originally in them. This doesn’t sound very reassuring, I know, but at the end of the day, as parents, all we can do is make the best choice from the available options.
But how safe is it to buy secondhand toys?
This is one – probably the only – instance where we do not recommend buying secondhand. A study found that secondhand toys are as unsafe as new toys. So what can we do? Don’t buy second hand toys for babies and toddlers, especially anything they might put into their mouths. But if you’re going for a doll or a tricycle or Lego sets for slightly older kids, secondhand may work.
The best solution? Avoid plastic toys altogether, as much as possible. Buy sustainably made, eco-friendly toys instead. These used to be way more expensive, but not only are more affordable sustainable toys available nowadays, but brands are also eager to repair and recycle their toys – taking care of the toy’s entire lifecycle.
Eco-friendly Toys Brands & Toy Companies
There is an increasing number of brands making safe and educational toys for your kids. This list (alphabetical order) is a great starting point to explore all that’s on offer.
1 // BRIO
Own factories | sustainable wood | exceed standards for toy safety
Brio is a Swedish toy brand that is over 135 years old. Their most popular product is a gorgeous wooden train line set. The Brio World line has thermoplastic components, which are safe, necessary parts of the toy.
Daniel Mauritzson, toy designer at BRIO: “We have four key rules that I base my work on. Toys should be safe to play with, they must comply with BRIO’s high quality standards, they must be intuitively easy for the child to understand – and they must help the child grow through play.”
2 // CLOCKWORK SOLDIER | UK
Minimal waste | FSC-certified | recycled paper, cardboard | earth-friendly inks
If you are looking for eco-friendly DIY activity toys, check out Clockwork Soldier. Don’t let the name fool you into thinking the toys are about soldiers; think magical gardens, unicorns, superheroes, and more!
3 // GREEN TOYS | USA
100% recycled | made from post-consumer plastic | sustainable | local manufacturing
Green Toys is a wonderful exception to the warning we gave earlier in this post about toys made from recycled plastic. Green Toys makes their toys from post-consumer recycled plastic milk bottles. When the source of the plastic is so narrow, the information about its composition can be more easily ascertained, making it a safe option for kids.
Green Toys are able to utilize a common plastic waste product to create wonderful toys. Think doctor’s sets, kitchen sets, and more.
4 // HABA
PEFC-certified wood | non-toxic, water-based stains and lacquers | BPA- and phthalate-free plastic and artificial rubber
HABA created the ingenious “creative play system,” where new sets of blocks can be added on as the child grows and evolves – all the way until age 12. This is not only great for the child’s creativity, but also for the environment’s health.
5 // Hape | Germany
Responsible manufacturing | sustainable | ethical
Hape is the largest wooden toy manufacturer in the world, and makes functional, eco-friendly toys for kids of all ages. Browse through their product list on their website and enjoy the thrill of excitement that not only you, but your kids will feel too.
6 // Janod | France
FSC-certified wood | sustainable | sourced from renewable resources
Janod has partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to create a line of 100% sustainable toys. Janod has great options for older kids, including wooden music toys and slightly more complex puzzles. Check out their Sweet Cocoon line of toys for infants, as well as career make-believe toys. Fun!
Note: They deliver only in France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Spain.
7 // Kapla | France
100% untreated French pinewood | sustainable packaging
Kapla is a French toy company that makes plank toys using European pine. Their colorful plank toys are also a more affordable option.
8 // Keva Planks | USA
Locally sourced maple wood | family-owned business
As a family-owned business, Keva Planks looks like they know how to focus on the right elements in their toys. Responsibly made with locally sourced maple and pine, their wooden planks are ideal for sustained imaginative play for kids. They also have wooden storage tubs to store all the planks, and everything is just neatly planned and designed to last for a long time.
9 // Kinderfeets | Netherlands
Toxin-free | sustainable materials | FSC-certified beechwood | water-based paints | recyclable packaging
Dutch toy company Kinderfeets makes superfun toys to help kids develop gross motor skills. So they have balance boards, ride-on toys, bikes and more. Many of their toys are multifunctional, with very clever designs.
10 // Le Toy Van | UK & Indonesia
Sustainably sourced | ethical working practices | water-based paints
Well-known British toy company Le Toy Van makes classic toys sustainably, and with a modern twist. Dollhouses, double-decker buses, cars, and trains – all beautifully made to provide maximum joy to your children.
11 // Maple Landmark | USA
heirloom quality hardwoods | plastic-free | local sourcing
Maple Landmark is America’s largest producer of sustainable wooden toys. Crafted with great love and attention to detail, these toys are almost like works of art. So, your baby will be teething on art, your little preschooler will be learning chess on art, and your toddler will be running an artwork train set. Aesthetic life indeed. But also safe, fun and sustainable.
12 // MELISSA & DOUG
Sustainably made | open-ended play
Melissa & Doug wants to encourage kids to see new worlds, discover new ideas, and let their creativity and sense of fun thrive. They do this, through their doll houses, puppets, and more. Their toys are also built to last for a long time, so think about who you will be gifting them to once your kids outgrow them!
13 // ökoNORM | Germany
Non-toxic | ethically made | water-based ink
ökoNORM makes art and craft supplies that are safe for kids: non-toxic, ethically made, and sustainable. Try out their water-based pens and finger paint, and their beeswax crayons.
14 // OLLI ELLA | Australia
Sustainable materials | ethical production | B Corp
Have a little artist in the family? Try out Olli Ella’s exciting Playpa coloring paper. The Aussie brand has a collection of gorgeous toys that are all ethically produced. You might even want to display their toys as curios in your home!
15 // PLAN TOYS | USA
sustainable materials & manufacturing | water-based dyes | plant-based ink | carbon neutral
Plan Toys are one of the most sustainable toy companies in the world. They make safe, open-ended toys to promote creativity and role play. Their pieces are free from toxins and are made from sustainably sourced rubber trees. Check out their puzzles, waterproof bath toys (made from excess sawdust), and pull-along toys.
16 // Tegu | Honduras
Social impact | local, non-endangered wood
These magnetic wooden tiles are ingenious, and perfect to help set your child’s imagination free. Tegu makes the magnetic tiles in different eye-popping colors and shapes. Simple, yet transformative.
17 // Tender Leaf Toys | Indonesia
Plastic-free | handmade | reclaimed rubberwood | water-based paints | family-run
Tender Leaf Toys makes their toys from sustainable rubberwood, using non-toxic paints. Their toys are great to teach kids about nature, and are made to last. So your kids can presumably pass on these toys to their kids when the time comes.
18 // Wishbone | New Zealand
sustainable natural materials | recycled materials | circular economy
Wishbone makes sustainable, multifunctional toys work within the circular economy. They encourage children to only buy what they need, and not hoard on toys, which is a great message for kids and adults alike! Wishbone also has a “pre-loved” collection of gently used toys for sale.
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NOTE: All brand photographs belong to the respective brands/businesses.