The Tot 10: Sustainable Play Toy Picks
Looking for ways to shop sustainably for your tot? In this article we look at what sustainability means in the toy world and share our 10 favorite sustainable toy picks.
As consumers get smarter about where their products are coming from and at what cost to the planet, it’s becoming more important than ever for brands to find sustainable ways of producing their products.
By definition, sustainability means ‘the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.’
While this may seem like a difficult endeavor due to market demand and the cost of ethically sourcing materials and labor, the brands we love are finding new and innovative ways to manufacture toys to support sustainable play.
Ready to learn more? In this article, we’ll go over:
- What ‘sustainable’ means in the toy world
- Why sustainable kids products are so important
- What to look for when shopping for sustainable kids toys
Scroll down to read on.
What ‘sustainable’ means in the toy world
When you take toys out of the equation, ‘sustainable play’ is any type of play that doesn’t negatively impact the environment. This could be an activity like roaming the backyard to piece together nature art or using off-cuts of a new porch’s railings to make your own block set. (As long as the railing was made with sustainably sourced wood and finished with non-toxic paint that is!)
In the toy world, ‘sustainable play’ means creating products out of renewable materials that can easily breakdown or be recycled.
For example, a brand could make a wooden toy from wood that is FSC Certified. FSC, which stands for the Forest Stewardship Council, is considered the ‘global standard’ and means that the wood used is harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, and economically viable.
Alternatively, they could use materials such as wool or organic cotton, which are biodegradable and can be composted.
Why sustainable kids products are so important
Have you ever stepped into a child’s room only to be confronted by a literal mountain of plastic toys? It’s shocking to see, right? Now imagine that times a billion packed into landfills around the world.
It’s depressing, we know.
According to the BBC, a poll by the British Heart Foundation found that more than a quarter of parents admit to throwing away toys that are in perfect working order. With the rate that families seem to be cycling through toys, it’s imperative that parents make sure:
- That the toys they buy are biodegradable or recyclable
- They have chosen toys that can be passed onto younger siblings or friends
- They choose toys that can grow with their child
Another benefit of choosing sustainable toys is knowing that the materials used are less likely to contain a toxic chemical such as phthalates. A lot of mainstream plastic toys are manufactured with things like formaldehyde, phthalates and PVC…. these are all potentially toxic to our bodies and the earth.
Want to find out how to recycle your tot’s plastic toys?
Visit Recycle Now to find your nearest recycling location.
What to look for when shopping for sustainable kids toys
When shopping for sustainable kids toys, the first place to start is by asking WHAT the toy is made of, WHERE it came from and HOW it’s made.
While wooden toys may seem like a no-brainer for sustainable play, not all options are made equal. Many mainstream toy brands use products like medium-density fiberboard (MDF). The issue here is that the majority of the time, the fibers are held together with glue containing formaldehyde. Not kind to the earth nor our bodies, this is definitely something you want to avoid! However, it’s important to note that SOME brands are doing this safely and sustainably, you just need to be sure to ask what, where and how the product is made!
Ideally, you’ll want to find materials such as:
- FSC certified or sustainably sourced solid wood
- Renewable rubberwood
- Sustainably sourced bamboo
- 100% wool felt
- Organic cotton
- Sustainably produced rayon from bamboo
- Recycled milk jug plastic
Even though we like to avoid plastic, as mentioned in the last bullet above, not ALL plastic is bad.
For example, Green Toys makes a wonderful range of toys from recycled milk jugs, while Luke’s Toy Factory replaces 30% of the plastic they’d usually use with sawdust from U.S. furniture mills and window factories.
The next thing you’ll want to consider is the versatility and longevity of the toy.
It’s no secret that kids grow rather tired of toys quickly so it’s best to choose toys that can be played with in numerous ways and are durable enough to be passed on to siblings or friends.
For example, the Wobbel balance board can be used for balancing, as a lap table, as a step stool, as a slide, for yoga, as a lounger for reading, as a stage and more, while the Wishbone 3-in-1 bike goes from tiny trike to toddler balance bike to kid balance bike! (But more on those two products soon!)
10 Sustainable Toy Picks We Love
At The Tot, we only ever use and recommend products that have passed The Tot Safety Test. This means we’ve examined third-party testing and asked in-depth questions about a product’s composition to ensure nothing contains a chemical we avoid.
When it comes to kids toys, we like to avoid chemicals such as BPA + BPS, PVC, Harmful Phthalates, Formaldehyde and Heavy Metals.
Scroll down to see our favorite Tot Tested & Approved sustainable toy picks!
Handmade in Nepal by local female artisans who use natural wool, non-toxic dyes and traditional felting techniques, the Papoose Deluxe Mouse House Set is a wonderful toy for encouraging imaginative and open ended play. Featuring a little mouse family, house, bedroom set and clothes line, this toy will help children develop their fine motor skills, vocabulary and tap in to their creativity.
Founded by an Australian early education teacher, family-owned Explore Nook is designed to spark curiosity about the natural world, the Explore Nook Wooden Waterways Set is perfect for encouraging investigation and experimentation with water flow outdoors. The three unique patterns in the rustic wooden channels change the way that the water flows, and the wooden blocks and funnel can create different heights and angles.
Made from spray-free renewable rubber wood and finished with non-toxic vegetable dyes, the PlanToys Pirate Ship is the eco-friendly play set you’ve been looking for! Ideal for encouraging role play, narratives and the development of fine motor skills, its high-quality design means it can be easily passed on to family, friends and even future generations.
Handmade in Australia from fallen branches collected in the founder and maker’s backyard, Let Them Play’s Starter Set has everything your tot needs to lace, hammer, tap, stack, role, press, thread and more!
Passionate about ending society’s throwaway culture and creating toys that teach (and entertain), the minds and hearts behind this eco-friendly toy brand design a range of products that allow children to think, do, imagine, plan, feel, try, fail, try again, win and so on!
Tender Leaf Toys is famous for creating timeless and engaging toys that support both a child’s physical and cognitive development.
Made from renewable rubber wood and painted with non-toxic water-based paints, the brand’s Home Kitchen, is an adorable open ended toy that will encourage imaginative play, critical thinking, problem solving, hand-eye coordination, healthy eating habits and communication skills.
A new take on the classic Pikler Triangle, Lily & River’s Birch Wood Climber allows children to partake in open ended and gross motor play, while developing gross motor skills, spatial awareness, the ability to balance, strength in their limbs, as well as physical self-awareness.
Made from FSC-certified Baltic Birch Hardwood, the non-toxic finishes mean you don’t need to worry about any toxic chemicals off-gassing into your home and child’s lungs.
$369.95 – $578.95
Grapat is known and beloved for their small part play sets.
Based in the Pyrenean mountains of Catalunya, this family run business uses sustainably-sourced wood and non-toxic paints to create open ended toys such as the Grapat Bowls & Balls. While your tot is playing, they’ll be learning the names of colors, the concept of size, while turning on their logical/mathematical thinking cap. The littlest players will love creating a fun game of peekaboo or hide and seek!
Handmade by third generation carpenters in Russia, the Raduga Grez Mountains Building Blocks are made from sustainably sourced solid wood and colored with natural water-based paints. Free from harmful varnish, this block set has been sanded to feel buttery soft on even the most delicate finger tips.
We love it because it can be used as a block set, story scene, puzzle and more!
Possibly the definition of versatile, the Wishbone 3-in-1 bike goes from trike to a two-height balance bike in minutes!
Incredibly important for strengthening a child’s core and leg muscles, bikes and ride-ons help children build confidence, learn to steer and engage in active play.
Ranging from $249.99 to $269.99
Available in more colors
As mentioned above, the Wobbel may look simple, but it actually offers A LOT of options!
Made of pressed FSC European beech wood and treated with water-based paints and varnishes, this sturdy balance board will most likely go off to college with your tot. Available in two backings (raw for carpet and felt for tile/wood), it’s just the thing you need to facilitate indoor active play.
- Looking for new ways for your child to play? Read our guide to discover the principles behind open ended play as well as our favorite open ended play toy picks.
- What We’re Reading: 3 Rules for a Peaceful Shared Play Space for Siblings