Sunday, October 7, 2012

What's Wrong With Plastic Toys, Part 2

Plastic toys are shiny and bright, designed with the most psychologically attractive appearance research has discovered for both children and parents, and advertised with the most manipulative marketing you'll find in any industry.  Don't go down that aisle if you can't resist it.  And remember that if you can't say no to the latest big label doll or action hero, it's that much harder for your child if he sees it.  If he or she doesn't know it's there, then there is no sense of lack in his or her universe!

But there has to be more than avoidance to the solution, so read on for ideas on how to deal with plastic toys, or how to avoid them altogether.

And if you need a reminder of what we addressed (ie:  chemicals and carcinogens!) read the first article here.

Action Plan

What do we do about all this plastic mess? Is it as simple as not buying any plastic, ever?

It can be. If you are that family that can be strong enough, resourceful enough, and determined enough to not buy plastic at all, then do it. Go for it. You will be a pioneer (possibly an outcast, but I'm guessing you're okay with that) and you will pave the way for the rest of us.

But what about the rest of us?

How are your frontiersman skills?

There is no easy answer to this, but you can start with checking back at Washington Toxics Coalition for a safer products list in a variety of categories: You can also sign up on that page to receive updated information about what they are researching.

Research your heavy metal levels for specific toys at Healthy Kids.Org to get a sense of just how high those levels might be. Keep in mind that this site doesn't express a safety level, but shows which chemicals are present and how high those levels are. You have to objectively assess what that means and what kind of risk that creates for your family.

Reuse and recycle everything plastic and if you can't recycle it, consider not buying it. Keeping it out of the landfill is just as important as keeping it out of your 13 month old's mouth.  Recycling is not the same as reusing or donating.  If you donate it, at least some other child will then enjoy your donated item.

But that leads us back to the big issue doesn't? It's not just about your kids' safety. It's about all kids' safety. It's about all those kids in China who live near the plastic plant. And all those kids who live near petroleum plants. And all those babies who put PVC toys in their mouths, even if your kid plays with an organic cotton pacifier.

There may be a balance to all this, and I'd like to think so, but being an anti-plastic pioneer who spreads natural toy love and education does seem to be the only real way to make the world a better place.

For an insightful discussion on how to keep plastic out of your home, check out this article at Natural Family (Live Journal). While it's more about her story than yours, she lists a lot of ways to avoid plastic. Even if you aren't going pro on avoiding plastic, you can use these tips to lower your intake of plastic until futher notice.

Some basic points to remember are: 

Start with the big stuff, the stuff that is easy to replace with a natural version or not buy in the first place.  For my girls, this means anything we can make or buy in natural materials or fibers other than baby dolls.  So we are working around that, minimzing plastic in all areas (not just toys!), buy natural fiber clothes and bedding, and are saving the tough stuff for last. 

Every time you buy something new, you are creating a demand for another replica of that toy on the shelf, which perpetuates the harmful manufacture of that toy.

Buy it used, borrow it, trade for it, or use things handed down from family to avoid buying it new if you have to have plastic.

Turn off the tv, and if you are bold enough, get rid of it.  I'm not just talking about television programming-- I mean THE TV.  Take it to the garage for a trial run of what it's like to not have it, cancel netflix so you don't just watch stuff on your computer, and stock up on your role-playing costumes for the kids for after they figure out what to do with themselves without tv.  More importantly, figure out what to do with yourself as a parent (talking to myself here!) when there is no tv to babysit.

Less tv of any kind means less exposure to advertisements, including movie trailers that are ten years old on a dvd.  And less advertisements means less manipulation of your child's mind that cause a deep seated need for whatever movie, character or product they are selling.

Try natural toys.  Just try them.  If your child wants a castle for his action figures, find one that is at least partially made from wood.  Watch what they do with it and how they respond to it after they get used to the lack of plastic shine. 

If you're creative, make toys, and if not, check etsy for thousands of handmade toys that were made with love and care by an individual who will likely really benefit from the money you spend on their product.

Talking to and educating your child is just as important as saying no to things that are not good for them.  Make it a family concern, something that everyone gets to have an opinion about.

Finally, use your intuition before going to the local toy store.  If you know in your gut that buying something synthetic is not right, then listen to it.  Then trust that intuition and don't head straight to the toy section because you'll be overwhelmed with stimulating media that clouds the intuition, judgment and ability to walk away without it.  If you ignore that inner voice and end up there, it will be that much easier to buy it, take it home, and eat ice cream to avoid the guilt.

We are not immune to these issues in our household and we recently experienced the craziness of not listening to that intuition before entering the Halloween section of a local department store.  TWICE I left with plastic and polyester costumes (same thing, by the way) and twice we returned them because standing there on that aisle with all the shiny stuff became intoxicating.  It overwhelms the mind and senses and is purposefully impossible to resist, especially for sensitive people.  Thankfully, we now have costumes in the making at home, we're saving money and will have natural fiber princess dresses that will last much longer than the cheap stuff at the store.  We're not venturing into the costume section again this season because both mom and girls can't handle it.

For us, living close to nature is a part of our foundation, a part of spirituality, and a part of what I view to be healthiest for all of us.  It's no big leap of logic that plastic and synthetic products are not what is best for us or our children or the planet, but keeping them out of the house is challenging, to say the least.  I hope if you have found ways that are useful for helping your family with these issues you'll share them, and I hope if you haven't that this article has given you a few things to think about.  The holidays are around the corner, which means plenty of spending.  What kind of toys will you buy?

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