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Paint & plastic toys are toxic for children, parents find alternative

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Fears of poisons in paint and plastics mean parents are turning to wooden, eco-friendly options. Cheap plastic is out and wood is in.

Not just any wood  —  it has to be organic for fussy parents eager for their little ones' playthings to be made from natural materials.

It's all in the name of eco-friendliness and to ensure children are not exposed to harmful chemicals and toxins sometimes contained in toys.

A recent survey by IPEN — a global civil-society network — said some toys contained high levels of toxins usually found in electronic waste.

The study, according to reports, claimed that contaminants that can damage the nervous system and reduce intellectual capacity were found in toys made out of recycled plastic.

Among these are the Rubik's Cube.

Organic toy boxes are now a must-have for some children.

Toy stores Hamleys, Toys R Us and Toy Kingdom have begun to stock expensive eco-friendly and wooden toy ranges, from train sets, puzzles, kitchen and baking sets to musical instruments.

But they don't come cheap, says parenting and toy expert Nikki Bush.

"About two or three years ago we picked up a trend of people requesting eco-friendly toys.

"They are that much more expensive and that is the problem. People are concerned about whether the paint on the toys is non-toxic for their kids."

She said there was an increasing number of suppliers who were starting to make more eco-friendly products.

"They cost are to three times more than the normal product," she said.

Hape toy brand has an environmentally friendly bamboo range.

"It is relatively new in South Africa and more popular with your high-end buyer - parents with money and who are more aware of environmental issues.

"These toys are toxin-free and for the parent it's a conscience thing, knowing that they are not doing the planet any harm.

"The benefit of wooden toys is that you can pass them from generation to generation," Bush said.

Durban remedial teacher Rachel Kinloch buys only organic toys for her 20-month-old son Hunter to avoid harmful toxins and to reduce her family's carbon footprint.

He's also raised on an organic diet.

"The more I looked into what toys and food are actually made of, the more I was convinced to try to find things as natural as possible.

"I know the risks that over-stimulation, through technology, games and certain toys, can have on children. Organic toys require the child to move and use the toys rather than just watch and let the toy lead," she said.

She is aware of the cost of organic toys, but said that the higher quality toys would be passed down to her future children.

Nicole Annells, marketing manager for Toys R Us, said the organic trend was changing the way parents shopped for their children for toys, food, skincare products and even clothing.

Babies R Us South Africa, which stocks several organic baby and child product brands, said that parents were increasingly discerning about what they bought for their children, especially food and skincare items. 

"We have noted a marked increase in sales and inquiries related to organic products," said Annells.

"Parents are becoming more conscious of their benefits, recognising these as a healthier alternative for their kids."

The toy-store chain stocks the Melissa&Doug wooden toy range.

"Wooden toys are an all-natural alternative, especially for eco-conscious parents.

"They are popular because they can be recycled and are often more durable than plastic, and typically far more eco-friendly," said Annells.

Hamleys has brought its popular Wooden Traditionals range to South Africa.

"This is driven more so by the UK. Local consumers see organic toys as an added benefit rather than an essential element," said Aurelle Franks, marketing manager of Hamleys.

Wendy and Mike McGregor make a range of craft wooden cars, aeroplanes, trucks, kitchen units, garages and farm yards. The prices for their toys range between R100 and R800.

"Parents are going the organic toy route because they last longer, are more durable and can be repaired," said Wendy.

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