As I puttered around the nursery today — hanging up tiny clothes, folding cloth diaper pre-folds, and putting away little wooden planes and rattles — I was reminded of a most unfortunate legislative circumstance that soon may make the very “green” products I’m constantly championing, non-existent or illegal.
You may remember the media buzz a couple years back about all the toy recalls. Dangerous toys — those with small, unsecured parts like magnets and high lead content — had flooded the market, mostly because many big-market toy manufacturers had outsourced production to China. Thankfully, Congress acted fairly quickly. Unfortunately, they acted with an axe, when it should have been a scalpel.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was passed last summer and among other things bans the use of lead and phthalates in children’s toys and requires third party testing for all products. Now don’t get me wrong, lead and phthalates (a toxic substance added to plastic to increase its flexibility) have no place in products marketed to children. Toys made from plastics and synthetic materials should be stringently tested to assure their safety for our most vulnerable population. So this is a good thing — if you’re Mattel.
Testing per item for CPSIA compliance can cost between $300 and $4,000. This proves a problem for small handmade toy manufacturers, who will not be able to afford the testing, though ironically, they work with materials that are inherently safe, like wood or wool. This also does not bode well for those small retailers who import European toys and children’s products which will have to pay out of pocket to have each item tested, even though European testing standards are already far more rigorous than the United States’. Those who will not be able to afford testing will either be forced out of business or have to sell their items illegally. This means that over time it may be virtually impossible to find hand-sewn wool diapers, or hand carved wooden trucks, or any children’s products that aren’t manufactured by big corporations. Books, school supplies, clothing, car seats, even Boy Scout patches, will be affected.
My friend Kate Glynn, owner of A Child’s Garden in Northhampton, MA, first brought this issue to my attention. The majority of what I have gotten for my baby has come from her store, which is really more than a store — it’s a mecca for natural parenting products and support (well worth the drive). She sells numerous slings and wraps, and knows how to use them all. Her selection of cloth diapers and accessories is very extensive, and she knows everything about every single one. There are shelves and shelves of books, and all the toys in the store are made locally or imported, and chosen because of their safety and their developmental benefits. She holds workshops on baby wearing, breastfeeding, and cloth diapering. Even before the lead toy scandal, you wouldn’t find toxic products on her shelves, and she would know, because she hand selects each and every one. But, with the implementation of the CPSIA as it is, she could go out of business. Toys R’ Us will not go out of business.
If you find this all as outrageous as I do, visit the Handmade Toy Alliance to see how you can help. The HTA, of which Kate is a member, has been fighting non-stop for amendments to the CPSIA that would keep small, law-abiding, handmade toy businesses in business, and keep the natural products that green mamas like me want on the market.