Confused about the latest buzz phrase parents? Welcome to the new BPA-free world of marketing and labeling. You know how you see BPA-free stamped on every kind of plastic sippy cup or baby product these days? Well move over BPA-free..with Canada banning 6 major phthalates in June (a few States have already banned these phthalates) you are about to see – and I’ve already noticed lots of branding and marketing for phthalate-free toys. Why? Now that the government has intervened, manufacturers and retailers are taking action to restrict phthalates from being added to soften vinyl in children’s toys and child car articles. Yes this is great! But I’ve seen a few examples of this warning being mis-interpreted by parents because there are other toxic chemicals that can be used to make vinyl or PVC soft other than phthalates. And when a parent sees the wording ‘non-toxic’ and ‘phthalate-free’ but the toy is still made from toxic material…is this not a form of green washing at it’s best? It saddens me that parents and consumers will be making purchases thinking they are making a very safe purchase for the environment and their children when this just isn’t the case.
I know, as I’m typing this I know I sounds like a real downer. My country is making this great change and I’m not happy. I guess I’m jaded and a wee bitter because we’ve seen this pure marketing opportunity for business to flourish with each ‘milestone’ the government makes with banning toxic chemicals. Just remember when jewelry was marked ‘lead-free’ because it was newsworthy, but manufactures started using cadmium. I’ve read article after article that BPA can leach at room temperature (no high heats required) making it a chemical that should just not be used in any product…not just for babies. And products marked BPA-free have been tested to contain it anyways. Now my fear for parents is seeing phthalate-free stamped on toys and children gimmicks and think they are safe. I’m sorry, but they are not! Most of the products being stamped with phthalate-free are soft plastic toys and they are made with PVC. This terrible, toxic material cannot be softened without a chemical being added (plasticizers) and phthalates aren’t the only one that can do this. Do not purchase phthalate-free products that are made from soft plastic unless they also say PVC-free. The closest products that come to mind for this type of greenwashing are bath toys for children, gag soothers, teethers, baby toys. I went to many high end stores in my neighborhood (we aren’t talking dollar stores) and everyone was carrying ‘phthalate-free’ bath toys that are made from PVC. We all know babies and children are going to put these in their mouth so why market them as safe? It really bothers me and it’s why I’ve taken a break from writing over the last week. Sometimes I feel like the baby steps we are taking to protect our children become a marketing opportunity and it really bothers me. But at the same time there are so many companies, manufacturers, and retailers doing this it’s not fair to point fingers at one or two companies. If you are confused if your baby products are non-toxic – you are welcome to ask on the Mommy Footprint Facebook fan page. We need to work together as consumers. The true mission here is to keep asking questions so that stores will be accountable for what they sell. I spent hours on the phone trying to talk with an appropriate person at Toys R Us to ask why they continue to sell vinyl and products made from PVC to babies. A company like this could really make a difference because they are huge! They have the resources to hire experts to decipher what truly safe baby products and toys are for children – but I can’t get a call back. It’s disheartening when you want to work with a company to help change what our children are exposed to. Really, only a company like Target, Walmart, Toys R Us, etc. can make a decision to ban certain materials they sell and have a big enough ripple effect to actually make a change. They carry the same or more power than our government with these decisions. Walmart announced they have banned polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) a widely available flame retardant that has mass outreach that is found in breastmilk to our food supply and is known to be toxic for human health. Walmart played leap-frog over government and although their business practices and certainly not always in support of local & green products, it shows the power of these huge big box stores. Imagine if they were to ban PVC. They wouldn’t have much to sell on their store shelves as far as toys and sporting equipment, but wouldn’t it be nice shopping without all the questions!?
So many articles in a short period of time on PVC, but we need to shop informed. Let’s stop giving our money to the stores that really don’t care about our kid’s health and the environment and support the ones that do. Below is a picture of the only rubber duckie I’ll currently buy. I borrowed this picture from The Soft Landing that sells these Boon Bath Toys. They are BPA-free, Phthalate-free, and PVC-free. I’m assuming they are made from natural rubber but funny enough I couldn’t get this information from the Boon site. Yes, a high end bath toy has finally hit the market and yes, we are not used to paying $6 for one rubber duck, but we’ve learned that quality is key – not cost. Kids don’t need 10 bath toys – 1 safer option will do and this model doesn’t have a hole in the bottom so there isn’t a mold concern either.