If you've been following our journey for a while now then you'll know how incredibly passionate we are about ethically and sustainably sourced products and materials when it comes to toys. At Happy Go Ducky, we only source toys that are finished with water based paints and food grade finishes, so they are 100% safe for little hands and kind to the environment.
Reflecting upon this ethos, it made me think of all the wooden toys that are now on the market, how popular they have become, and had me wondering, if something is labeled as eco friendly and sustainable, is it really? So down the research rabbit hole I went…
Remember when organic products became really popular and brands were slapping the words natural and organic on products left, right and centre and then the majority of them were later found to not be that at all? More like the opposite. Thankfully certification came into play and the ACCC made it harder for companies to make false and misleading claims on their packaging. It was good while it lasted but unfortunately we live in a world where there are always ‘grey’ areas and loop holes and a lot of companies will do anything to sell a product, even if that means lying or being misleading about how the product is made and what it contains.
In today’s blog, I hope to shed a bit more light on how some toys are made and what different types of wooden toys can contain. My aim is educate people more and encourage them to check labels and ask questions when they’re unsure or can’t find the information they’re looking for.
Lets be honest, who doesn’t love a bargain? Especially when it comes to buying toys and clothes for our children because they will usually be out grown or loved a little too rough! At the same time, we are all becoming more aware of doing things to help look after our planet, and one of the most common ways to do that is to avoid plastic wherever we can. But is a wooden toy from the local department store fulfilling our attempt to buy natural products and are they safe for our children?
Firstly, it is important to understand the types of wood that are used to make toys and why it varies. Some of the more common types of wood used are Pine, Ply and Fir. These are generally cheaper to source and more readily available. When it comes to any type of wood though, there are many different species and grades of quality which is dependant on where and how the tree was grown. Yes, you can have high quality ply wood if it is sourced correctly and the glues etc are eco friendly, non toxic and safe.
Sometimes toy makers will use a combination of woods, for example, using a hard wood for moving parts and support structures, and soft woods for the body of a toy like a tray table on a truck. When you start using hard woods such as Ash, Maple and Beech, the cost is going to increase as these types of wood are generally more expensive, especially if sourced responsibly and not to mention the level of skill and expertise that is required to create the toy.
The next thing that should be addressed is what is the toy finished with? Is it raw? Has a lacquer been used to finish it? Is the paint water based and non toxic? Is the glue safe? These are all questions that should be asked more readily by consumers, as it is so important.
Many cheaper brands of wooden toys are manufactured in China, because materials, labour and production are much cheaper. Although there are some regulations on what can and can’t be used, the quality control overall is of a poor standard and companies will cut costs wherever they can. Toys will often be made out of poor quality MDF or plywood and are bonded together using cheap toxic glues, as well as poor quality paints or lacquers that can be very toxic and even contain lead. Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, over months or years. Lead and other harmful toxins will slowly leech out of the product over time and enter our bodies via the air or direct contact.
Environmental factors such as heat and direct sunlight will also dramatically speed up this process. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children younger than 6 years are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can have serious affects on their mental and physical development. At higher levels, lead poisoning can even be fatal. It’s important to note that this also applies to plastic toys. Studies have shown that some plastics contain over 1000 chemicals, many of which are unknown. Some of the more common chemicals include dioxins, phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, and cadmium.
Again, these chemicals leech out of the product over time and become even more dangerous when exposed to higher temperatures and although a lot of these chemicals have been banned, unfortunately many of them are still used and their replacements have proved to be no safer.
Now, let’s talk sustainability! What is it and why does it matter? Most of have a fair idea, but when you really get into it there is quite a bit more to it!
When a tree is grown sustainably and certified as such by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), it means that the trees have been grown responsibly and without chemicals. This in turn protects and maintains the natural ecosystems and biodiversity which rely on these forests for survival. They also capture carbon and help reduce the effects of climate change. The overall goal is to always maintain balance between the ever increasing demand for forest products and benefits, and the preservation of forest health and diversity.
When a forest is NOT sustainable or responsibly managed, it has a huge impact on the surrounding communities. Harsh toxic chemicals are often used to speed up growth which affects the quality of wood as it is not grown naturally. This then results in the wood cracking and splintering much more easily. Local water supplies are also greatly impacted and quality is affected from the run off of these chemicals. It also causes harm to the wildlife, degrades the land, and the working conditions are usually very dangerous for the loggers as it is not managed for safety and can often involve illegal logging.
I have included a link below to a great short video about this which is on the WWF’s Youtube page:
It’s important to be aware. As with any kind of product based marketing, it’s purpose is to grab our attention and tell us what we want to hear with good branding and packaging.
If you see a picture of a tree, a label that says “eco friendly” or “made from real wood” and it’s packaged in a nice box, you are probably going to think you’re buying a good product. But companies are good at leaving out the bits they don’t want you to know! Regulations on information that is disclosed on labels in Australia is governed by the ACCC Product Safety Standards, and if you have a read on what they regulate, there is no mention of the types of paints or glues that are used or what type of wood has been used, which means companies are not required to disclose this information. So even when a package says “Complies with Australian Standards”, this only relates to the safety of the toy in terms of its moving parts and the age range it’s suitable for. It does not relate to where it was made, by who, what it contains and where the materials were sourced from etc.
So when you’re looking for a toy or gift for your child or someone else’s, a little research goes a long way. Buying from reputable and trust worthy stores who happily disclose where the product is from, how it’s made or who are more than happy to answer a few questions about is the best way to feel confident in your purchase and it’s safety.
Tired yet? It’s exhausting isn’t it! It’s complicated and tiring for consumer’s to research, understand and think about all of this when they are at the shops and need to get a last minute gift or their child sees a toy and wants it. But with a little time and persistence it does get easier. Take a minute to check the label and get as much information from it as you can.
Even having a quick checklist that you can go through will make it easier, for example:
As I said, if you do some research and find brands that are open about how and where their products come from then you know you can confidently buy from them and support them. If you can’t find this information easily then don’t be afraid to ask the questions. Education is always key and this is definitely something important that we can also teach our children.
We do the research so you don't have toWe’re committed to sourcing quality, safe, ethical and sustainable products and doing whatever we can to reduce our impact on the environment. We love finding other small business who share this passion, so if you know of one or own one, let us know! We’d love to follow you and support you on our social media.
As always, if you have any questions or feedback, please reach out. We love hearing from you and assisting you wherever we can.
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