Soft Plastic Toys Labelled Phthalate Free

This is a short post, but I’m hopeful to make a BIG point. I’m not a scientist, expert, or engineer, but I have researched PVC for a few years now and I swear I’m as confused today as 3 years ago. But I’m having a moment of clarity thanks to the Greenpeace website and want to share before my clarity is gone. I’ve long struggled with the fact I gave my boys soft plastic toys to play with in the bathtub and worse…I gave these same toys to my girls when their teething was really bad. Where did I get them from? I written about this before – the gift shop from my city’s aquarium. Did I assume they were anything other than dollar store type toys for them to play with? No, but my boys loved the shark, dolphin, sea life designs and I thought they’d make awesome bath toys. Well fast forward a couple of years and I get upset because I realize they soft plastic toys were toxic. Not just a little toxic, but made with PVC plastic that leach phthalates. To hear the history behind all this – you can read this post.

Well – two years later, today actually, I visit my local aquarium again with my beautiful kids. They have really made some great changes with carrying Under The Nile (organic cotton) toys, etc. but I notice those damn plastic toys again. You know the kind…the soft plastic dolphin that squeaks when you squeeze it. But now the package has a sticker on it labeled ‘phthalate free’.  I guess with phthalates being the next new buzz word among green parents (next to BPA) that enough would be said. Although I’m still confused. The price on these toys is still inexpensive, the toy is made from bendy plastic, but they are phthalate free?  Here is what I’m going to say.  Unless a soft plastic toy ~ that may end up in a child’s mouth or bathtub is labeled PVC-free, don’t buy it. If a toy is produced from PVC – it doesn’t matter if it’s phthalate-free, an additive (chemical) has been added to soften it otherwise it would be brittle/hard plastic. Just as dangerous because phthalates are just one class of chemicals. I’m sure I’ll get a call from the aquarium telling me that the toy is PVC-free.  I say prove it first. If a company is going through all the expense to not use PVC – they would market that fact and tag the product as such. I’m done wasting my time trying to contact manufacturers and big box stores (hello Toys R Us!) to ask them if they use PVC in the products they sell.  I know they do and they know they do.   Now here is the quote that gave me clarity.  Thank you Greenpeace!!

The emerging science on the hazards of plasticizers used in soft PVC products provides substantive evidence that soft PVC presents unacceptable risks during use. Additives, such as plasticizers and stabilizers, are a necessary component of all PVC formulations. Without these additives, PVC is brittle, degrades easily, and is unversatile. Softeners are not chemically bound to the PVC polymer, but rather float around the polymer, like water in a sponge, giving the plastic the flexibility required. As a result, it is evident that plasticizers used in PVC will leach, volatilize, or migrate from a product over time. This has long been recognized by the PVC industry itself. Pressure on a PVC product will increase leaching substantially. Of most concern is the leaching of plasticizers resulting from sucking or chewing on soft PVC toys, representing a direct bodily dose of these chemicals to the infant or child.

Read more of this article here. Greenpeace has excellent information on PVC and phthalates – I’m very grateful for their research. Seriously – why isn’t the government mandating that any stores selling PVC products to children be closed?  Doing phase out strategies is not working….toys are just being shuffled around to countries that are/aren’t regulating it. We are North America for god’s sake!  This shouldn’t be another problem parents need to educate themselves with.  Uh oh…rant coming on. I’ll stop and just encourage you to push and ask questions. Let’s get to the bottom of what plastic surrounds our children and finally get PVC away from them!


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14 Responses to Soft Plastic Toys Labelled Phthalate Free

  1. Sarah February 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    On elegant I found the camo duck squirties bath toys that my kids play with. What does this description mean?

    “Give this wonderful set of bath toys from Elegant Baby and your kids will never want to leave the tub! Parents will love the nontoxic paint and phthalate-free PVC, because it???s totally safe for kids. Packaged in a vinyl zip bag with drainage holes for neat and easy storage and cleanup, it makes a fantastic baby shower or birthday gift.”

    Does this mean that my bath toys are toxic? How misleading. Why does it say that they are safe if there is no safe PVC? I too am confused. Thanks for any help/advice you can give me.

  2. suzanne February 16, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

    Gah! With reading the product description ‘phathalate-free PVC’ it’s hard to know if they are trying to communicate this product is ‘phthalate-free and PVC-free’ or if they are indeed stating their ‘PVC’ is phthalate free. If the bath toys are made from PVC – yes they are toxic bath toys (take the phthalate-free out of the equation because if they are made with PVC…they are toxic!). I would contact Elegant Baby and ask a few questions: 1) what is the brand of these bath toys? 2) what are they made from? vinyl, PVC? 3) What is their return policy. There is no such thing as safe PVC when it’s been softened and it’s being put in bath water or given to toddlers that suck on their toys. If they would like to talk to someone to explain their position on this, they are welcome to email me via the Mommy Footprint site.

  3. Nadia @ Red, White and GREEN Mom February 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I never considered what went into making plastic soft. I just went to trying to avoid all plastic — which seems to be an impossible task.

    It’s so hard to find good reliable toys for kids to play with in the bath (or any toys for that matter). It drives me nuts the extent that we must go to just to ensure our kids are safe. You’d think that not providing toxic toys would / should be a simple task! Ridiculous!!!

  4. Kristy February 18, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    Another reason I love wooden toys. I know where trees come from and I know where they go back to.

  5. suzanne February 18, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    I totally agree. It’s been the toughest place to make ‘safe’ for my kids. Alternatives that I’ve purchased for my kids include, Alex foam pieces that stick to bath wall, making my own walnut boats from wax and nuts, Green Toys tea set that my daughters love, and Boon bath toys. My biggest frustration has been Barbie mermaids that are designed for the bath and I’m sure they shouldn’t be anywhere near children in water. I agree….someone needs to manufacture some fun toys from safe materials for tubby fun!

  6. Marilyn February 19, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    Thank you for your interesting post. It is wonderful that you are concerned about our footprint on this planet!

  7. Nadia @ Red, White and GREEN Mom February 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    I bought Alex foam toys also (the dirty dishes set) but I’m still not too sure I trust them… 🙁

  8. Susan C. April 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I just purchased three inflatable plastic wedge-shaped seats for my students.
    They are most definitely made from “softened” plastic. They smell awful and are sitting outside- away from me and the kids. I just called the company who distributes them. They will get back to me when they find out what materials were used.
    Is there any way to safely use this product?

  9. suzanne April 30, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Hi Susan,
    I’m not sure what plastic wedge-shaped seats are, but they sound like inflatables made from PVC and softened with plasticizers. I think these products do a lot of off-gassing when they are first ‘unwrapped’ from their packaging, but the facts are PVC will continue to off-gas for it’s entire existence. If this is within a classroom, it’s probably not very healthy. BUT – throwing away the product isn’t doing the environment any favors since PVC cannot be recycled. Can you return them to the company where you bought them? If not, can they be used outdoors which will help with the ‘smell’ factor?

  10. Lisa June 27, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    I’m so confused as well. I have this bath book by Sandra Boynton called “Bath Time.” When I learned about the softeners in plastic, I immediately researched this book. It says it’s made of EVA, which is Ethylene-vinyl acetate. According to, “EVA is widely accepted as safe for use in teethers. It does not require a plasticizer to obtain its flexibility, making it bisphenol-a and phthalate free. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CEHJ) recommends EVA as a safer PVC-free plastic alternative. ”
    So is this safe or not?

  11. Lisa June 27, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Also, the site you mentioned says that EVA is an okay alternative, however in Europe they recalled the foam mats made of EVA foam because they also contained harmful toxins:

    I’m not sure if those toxins were added, or if EVA is bad. One person mentioned in a blog that the vinyl acetate is a carcinogen.

    I’m getting a headache.

  12. Susannah June 28, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    I just bought an air mattress from Shrunks that smelt awful when I opened it. They said it’s free from lead and phthaltes which is what made me order it, but upon inspection, I see it’s made from PVC! Has anyone found a relatively “OK” air mattress?

  13. suzanne July 8, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    Hi Lisa,
    Here is what I’ve researched re: EVA. According to the Greenpeace website, EVA is a better alternative to PVC because it’s a Thermoplastic Elastomer that exhibits rubber like tendencies, is flexible, resilient, and resistant to cracking and contains no plasticizers or other additives. These are all good things and make it a superior material to plastic that’s been softened with plasticizers. Another example of a Thermoplastic Elastomer are the Boon rubber ducks that are made from SBS (Styrene-Butadience Block Copolymers) these are also recommended as an alternatives to PVC. Greenpeace is not advocating these materials…they are just considered a better substance than PVC for producing toys. I would say if your uncomfortable with the thought of young children ‘mouthing’ products that are bendy and made for the bath, make substitutions…find naturally treated wooden toys for the bath or hard plastic strainers or toys. I find it a struggle too to feel comfortable with anything bendy and soft (that’s plastic) with babies and toddlers so if I could go back in time when my children were young…I would have saved my money and given them items from my kitchen to play with the in bathtub.

  14. suzanne July 8, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    Hi again,
    The recall you mention is for EVA foam because they were found to contain formamide – which is toxic chemical. This chemical is added to make the foam more bendy. You need to contact the manufacturer of any items made with EVA foam because it can be made with or without using formamide. So we are talking about two different substances here: EVA and EVA foam. I’m sure that many carcinogen chemicals are added to plastics, foams, and a wide variety of pliable materials..unfortunately we need to contact manufacturers and find out if they’ve tested for toxic chemicals when making products for our families. Sad but true. I hope this helps!


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