Plastic Toys for Kids: 3 Toxins to Avoid & Safe Alternatives

Some plastics, such as PVC (plastic #3), contain dangerous toxins. Reduce your plastic use and try these alternatives instead.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Plastic Toys: Are They Safe?
Plastic Toys: Are They Safe? / Sander Tamm / Ecolife

Much has been said lately about the dangers of some of the plastic toys on the market today. Though plastic seems like a perfect material for toys—it’s indestructible, can be washed, and can last for a very long time, it may come with hidden dangers that make it less than safe for your child. Read on to understand the hazards in plastic toys and how to go about buying safer plastic toys.

What’s so scary about plastic toys?

To answer this question, we first need to discover the many different forms plastic can take. Most plastic products, including toys, can be identified by the little number inside the chasing arrows on the bottom of the item.

For our purposes, the one that should concern you when it comes to purchasing plastic toys is #3, which is known commonly as vinyl, PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, though #7 plastics are also of concern. Toys made with these materials pose three important health and environmental challenges:

  • Dioxins: During the creation, recycling, and incineration of PVC plastics, a dangerous chemical known as dioxin is created—it is the third-largest source of dioxin. Dioxins are considered some of the most toxic poisons known to humans and can harm our neurological, reproductive, developmental, and hormonal systems. They are persistent in the environment and can be found in our food and breastmilk.
  • Phthalates: This class of chemicals is used to make plastics like PVC more flexible and can be found in teethers, backpacks, wood finishes, adhesives, perfumes, mosquito repellents, and medical devices. It has been linked to numerous health problems, including cancer, endocrine disruption, development delays, and reproductive system damage.
  • Bisphenol-A (BPA): This chemical is used in the manufacturing of rigid, hard plastics like those used for baby bottles and some baby toys and pacifiers, and can be found on products with the resin #7. It too is persistent in the environment and our bodies, and has been known to damage cells in breasts, uteruses, and prostate, and can increase developmental disorders (such as ADHD) and nervous system problems. It has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Safer alternatives to plastic toys

To ensure your child has a safe playing environment, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid PVC: This is easily enough done—don’t buy anything with a resin #3 in the chasing arrows. But if the flexible plastic toy isn’t properly labeled, don’t buy it unless it’s are labeled as PVC-free.
  • Avoid BPA: Stay away from toys made with BPA by staying away from toys made with #7 plastic, especially if they’re going in your baby’s mouth.
  • Avoid phthalates: In addition to staying away from plastics with the #3 resin label, also seek out those that explicitly mention that they are made phthalate-free.
  • Choose natural fibers: Toys made from natural fibers such as wood and bamboo are biodegradable, renewable, and non-toxic by nature.
  • Choose silicone over plastic: Toys made from silicone don’t break down as easily, are heat-resistant, and are more ocean-friendly than their plastic counterparts.
  • Choose recycled: If you can, look for toys made with recycled plastics which help to keep useful materials from ending up as trash in the landfill, reduce toxicity, preserve natural resources, save energy and water, and create jobs!

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Some plastic toys are unsafe for kids as they leach and contain dangerous toxins, such as DEHPBPA, and phthalates. Avoid toys made from PVC (plastic #3) or plastic #7, and consider toys made from wood, bamboo, or silicone over plastic.

Plastic toys made from polypropylene or PP (plastic #5) are generally considered safe for kids as polypropylene does not leach and is heat-resistant.

Safer alternatives to plastic toys for kids include:

  • Natural fiber toys (wood, bamboo)
  • Silicone toys
  • BPA-free, phthalate-free plastic toys