10 Tips for Avoiding Recalled Toys

December 3rd, 2008

Do you see what’s on that paper lying next to those cute toy trains? A recall notice for those very same trains.

Those My Little Train Toy Classics were so darn cute that I picked one up to admire it. And it was cheap too – less than $2.

But those cheap toys always give me pause. So many of them have been linked to recalls and lead paint. So I decided against purchasing one, even though I’m not prepared to spend loads of money on an all natural, organic alternative.

As I was leaving the store, I noticed a recall notice on the bulletin board near the exit. I picked up the recall notice and ran back to see if these were the same trains. After taking them all down from the display, I brought them over to the customer service desk, showed them the recall notice, and explained that they were selling recalled toys. I expected an apology, or at least an expression of concern from the store personnel…but their response didn’t satisfy me. My immediate reaction was to send out this irate Tweet to my Twitter network.

The next day I called the store manager, and asked him if he was aware of what had happened with the recalled toys the evening prior. He wasn’t. No one had yet bothered to tell him that they had recalled toys on their shelves. He assured me that there was no way I could have purchased a recalled item, because the item would not ring up at the register. He also told me that it was likely that just a lot of the item that was recalled, and that the items on the store shelf were probably fine. Well, no. I checked the Consumer Product Safety Commission website and in fact, all of these toy trains have been recalled due to a choking hazard.

It’s tempting to buy cheap toys – but it’s not worth the risk. They’re often full of toxins (just ask my friend with a toy testing gun, The Smart Mama). And even if they’re safe, they usually don’t last very long before they break.

Few of us can afford to buy all natural, organic toys all the time. So what can you do? Here are ten tips:

1. Before you buy anything, go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and check the recall list. The notice on the toy trains came out the very day I saw them on the store shelf! (And five more alerts have come out since that one was issued!)

2. Shop consignment stores. You won’t believe the number of high quality wooden toys you can find, some still new and in the original packaging. In the DC area, I like to shop at The Purple Goose and Wiggle Room.

3. Ask your friends for their cast-offs. I have one dear friend in Florida who mails her son’s hand-me-down clothes to us. There’s no reason you can’t get cast-off toys too. (I’d like to get in line for cast-offs from the son of natural toy expert MC Milker of Not Quite Crunchy Parent!)

4. Check yard sales, especially in what my mother used to call “the high rent district.” That’s where you may find gently used, natural and organic toys.

5. Zwaggle is a great source for parents to swap gently used toys.

6. Freecycle is full of environmentally conscious people who love to recycle. These are the same people who are likely to have purchased high quality toys. Post a query requesting your child’s dream toy. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get it for free!

7. Look for discount coupons on line. Simply google the name of the toy and “coupon,” and see what turns up. And here’s an easier way you can save some money on high quality, natural toys. To save 10% off your first order at Natural Pod, just use coupon code GCM08.

But these are only temporary steps. The only way we will keep junk toys out of the store aisles is by exerting pressure on government to strengthen the regulations governing toy safety and inspections. Here’s what you can do:

8. Call or write your Congressional delegation and tell them that you want more resources devoted to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency tasked with ensuring the safety of our children’s toys.

9. Write to your state and local representatives too. States like Washington and Oregon are ahead of federal law it comes to protecting our kids from unsafe toys.

10. Align yourself with organizations that are lobbying the government on behalf of children’s issues. Groups such as Momsrising lobby for passage of laws that help protect kids not only from recalled toys, but from toys containing unsafe levels of chemical toxins.

How are you going to handle toy shopping this holiday season? Leave a comment and share!

— Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2008

10 Responses to “10 Tips for Avoiding Recalled Toys”

  1. Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama on December 3, 2008 9:49 pm

    Another resource is healthytoys.org. The organization tests toys with the same analyzer I use – it can give you an idea of whether a toy is safe. Of course, keep in mind that the site can only tell you if the particular toy it tested is safe – it may or may not be true of other production runs of the same toy.

    When shopping for toys, stay away from vinyl (aka PVC or polyvinyl chloride plastic). Vinyl usually contains hormone disrupting phthalates and must be stabilized. The stabilizer is usually lead, cadmium or organotin – all of which have adverse health effects associated with them.


    Thanks, Jennifer, for pointing this out! Yes, I neglected to include healthytoys.org – a great resource which I’ve blogged about before. So we now have 12 tips for avoiding recalls! — Lynn

  2. JessT on December 4, 2008 7:56 am

    You pretty much covered the gambit, Lynn and Jennifer! I was so excited to see that HealthyToys.org just came out with a new set of results before the holidays.

    Other ideas: shop small indy retailers for wooden/natural toys — one Etsy shop I love is Little Alouette (they have wooden teethers and blocks and such). Etsy even has a geography feature so you can shop local! Or, if you have been smart and rotating your toys out of eye’s reach (like a couple months ago – 3-4 months is enough for a toy to become new again), bring them back into play around the holidays cause they will be newly fun for your little ones (and give fewer new toys). Then there is also the option of making your own. I’ve got a couple projects up my sleeve for my kids (I want to make a felt board with moveable figures, for starters).

    Hear, hear on the hand-me downs! Of course, with hand-me-downs and 2nd hand, I do worry *more* about recalls (which is why yr tip to seek out wooden toys is right on the mark).

    Jess, great tips!! And you are so much more of a hands-on crafty type person that I am, so I can only imagine what you will come up with! I bet there are a lot more tips out there we’ll get from commenters…I know “swap meets” are becoming popular again…get together with some friends and swap things out. The sad thing is, you can’t even trust all the wooden toys. Who can forget the Thomas recall? I made a big show of lamenting the fact that James the Red Engine was missing because he had lead in his paint when Min Sook was filming Baby Boo and me for her “Toxic Babies” documentary. And you know? I still haven’t replaced that darn James engine and that’s just the one Boo wants…so do I spend another $20 for a new engine? Grr…I know they replaced them for free, but I think DH chucked James before I could mail him back. — Arggh…just what I want to waste my time on! — Lynn

  3. Muthering Heights on December 4, 2008 9:10 pm

    I can’t believe that!!!

    I know – isn’t it incredible? I’m still shaking my head. — Lynn

  4. Mindful Momma on December 16, 2008 12:38 pm

    Great tips Lynn! I’d add one thing – avoid the Dollar Store at all costs – I just don’t trust them anymore.

  5. Steph @ Greening Families on December 19, 2008 5:42 am

    Thanks for compiling all these suggestions into one article. It is so hectic this time of year that it is easy to forget some of these options!

    We sidestep this issue a bit by giving things other than toys as presents. Books are always in the mix and this year we started giving experiences as well. For example, our daughters get to pick an activity as one of their presents this Christmas. They are having so much fun debating the pros and cons of the choices that I wish we would have done this earlier!

  6. Herbs Medicine » Blog Archive » BLOG Not Going to Happen: Part Two on December 22, 2008 8:23 am

    […] 10 Tips for Avoiding Recalled Toys Do you see what’s on that paper lying next to those cute toy trains? A recall notice for those very same trains. Those My Little Train Toy Classics were so darn cute that I picked one up to admire it. And it was cheap too less than $2. But those cheap toys […] Natural Life Recent Additions […]

  7. mcmilker on December 22, 2008 9:34 pm

    LOL – great post Lynn,

    I’ll start sending you my hand me downs!

    But now…I’m irate too and did send out a tweet.

    My son just received a big box of Tinker Toys…all garishly colored plastic! Since when are Tinker Toys plastic? The box was so similar to the traditional plastic – even said, “Classic” that the gift giver was as surprised as I was!

    I’m annoyed and received little help from customer service-

    My Tweet – “Bait and Switch TinkerToys…Grrrr

  8. Beth on December 28, 2008 5:36 pm

    It’s amazing how many unsafe toys there are out there now. I can’t believe that store had those toys on the shelf like that. It just goes to show that too few people have pride in their jobs now days, as that sales clerk didn’t sound like they cared at all. It really angers me.

  9. daddy-o on January 12, 2009 9:48 am

    Technically, these Toy Trains were not recalled because they had small parts – any toy intended for ages 4 & up can have small parts as long as the package shows a small parts warning. The CPSC decreed they be recalled because -in their myopic, bureaucratic opinion- these toys could appeal to ages 3 & under, which are -not- allowed to have small parts. Never mind that the packaging clearly informs the consumer the toy is intended for children 4 and older and had the required small parts warning. Ironically, the real reason these toys were recalled might have been because as you say, they were so cute, in this case maybe too cute and preschool-looking for their own good…

  10. Toy toys on March 9, 2009 2:23 am

    Nice tips. I can’t believe that there are some people selling recalled toys

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