Sunday, September 21, 2008

Is That Wood Toy Really Planet Friendly?

We stand there in the checkout line of our favorite local toy store with a wooden toy in our hands. We're doing good, right? Our kids will have fun with it, we know that, but what about the planet? Is buying a wood toy inherently planet friendly or a slippery slope of eco-destruction?

Unfortunately, buying wood products of any kind without fully understanding their origins can be detrimental to our world forests, and this is true for wood toys too.

80% of toys are manufactured in China, and while the vast majority of these toys are plastic there are more and more toys of the market that are made of wood and made in China. One of my 'ungreen' friends asked me once why he should care about buying environmentally friendly toys and avoiding un-certified Chinese wood products for his kids. My answer was of course, that we should all care about the planet we leave our children, the impact of plastic manufacturing on us globally and that we all simply need trees to breathe. He also thought that China was using it's own forestry resources for the manufacture of it exports, and expressed a NIMBY feeling about their use of their resources, but ever since the devastating flood of the summer of 1998 China has attempted to put severe restrictions on logging of it's own forests in part because the intensive logging and poor land management in the years leading up to the flood were identified as part causes for the river flooding. Right now China uses primarily imported wood for it's international manufacturing trade.

In 2002 the WWF released their report 'The Timber Footprint of the G8 & China' which identifies the illegal trade of world timber resources. While the report does not specifically mention the toy industry as one of the industries impacting the global timber resources it addresses some very serious concerns regarding logging and international timber trade.

In short,the report suggests that 13% of the timber and wood products purchased by G8 countries and China are sourced or traded illegally. And to put that into perspective that is about 53 million cubic meters, or an area about the size of Lake Superior every year.

China's need for imported timber for it's wood product exports have quadrupled over the past decade and it does little to ensure that it's wood imports are legally sourced, this in turn means that there no payment of government royalties to the exporting nations (revenue for the exporting country) or environmental control over the logging and harvesting of the timber.

The majority of China's wood imports originate from Indonesia, Cameroon, Malaysia and the Russian Far East. All of these countries are known to have rampant illegal timber trade with 50% to 80% of the wood harvested and sold to Chinese and other interests from Russia's Far East and Cameroon being illegally harvested, situation in Indonesia is reportedly even worse.

In Thailand, another popular source for wood often used for toys not only are their own forests improperly harvested for international trade but they in turn import illegal timber from Burma, Cambodia and Laos for export, where too laege amounts of timber are illegal.

How can we ensure that the toys and other wood products we buy are responsibly harvested and sold? The best way is to look for FSC Certified wood products, wood products made from re-purposed wood products such as rubberwood, and renewable wood sources such as bamboo. One can also look to purchase products manufactured and sourced in countries with commitments to sustainable logging practices such as Germany and Vietnam and consider wood products made from recycled wood and/or recycled/able wood bio-composite plastics.

Right now it is up to the consumer to educate themselves on the origins of the materials used by manufacturers but one can hope that the increased interest in environmentally considerate manufacturing processes with lead the manufacturers to clearly identify the source of their materials and manufacturing processes. In the meantime keep your eyes peeled for toys made by companies such as Plan Toys, ImagiPLAY, HaPe and Selecta who already mandate sustainable, renewable materials for the products they create.

Formore information on China's wood industry and illegal logging of our worlds forests check out:

BHappy, Play Safe!

oh, p.s., if your wondering if the toy in the picture is earth friendly it is! The gorgeous Monkey Tree puzzle by Imagiplay is crafted from rubberwood, a renewable resource. Rubberwood is plantation grown to be tapped for its natural laytex rubber. Once the tree has reached the end of it's laytex producing life the wood of the tree is used to manufactuer products such as toys. Multi-function trees - how cool is that?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Peaches for me!?!

When I was expecting my second I was crazy for fruit and veg. Couldn't get enough of it. Obsessed with finding the best grilled veggie salads or sandwhiches and visiting every farmers market within reach. I went crazy for peaches I found at the East York Civic Centre. I ate a big basket every week they were in season. Pinks, whites, I tried all sorts. When my buddy was in the hospital after having her daughter I brought her.... peaches.

Imagine my dismay to learn that my beloved peach, when conventionally grown, is likely to carry the highest pesticide load of any commercially available fruit or veg., according to the Environmental Working Group. Since my son now loves his peaches just as much as I did while growing him I've been buying as locally and then organically as much possible.

We've been away for a few weeks and I have been secretly dreaming about those peaches at the market. They were just coming in when we left. The organic ones we can get here are ok but they are nothing like these local peaches. So as soon as I could I went to the market and lo and behold! My peach guys have a chemical free crop!!!

Maybe not quite as sweet as some of the others, but I'll take it against the chemical load any day, especially since they're also local...

In case your interested, this is my Staples Guide for Fruit and Veg .
It's based on the Enviromental Working Groups findings & availability of locally grown produce. It gives me a basic list of foods to shop for and cook based on a healthy food chain of fresh food, taking advantage of as much local as possible, & providing the most nutrition with the most minimal chemical residue reasonable, in my mind, for children. I try to shop with it in mind whenever I can.

Top 5 Always Frozen In House
  1. Corn -very low pesticide load conventionally grown, often available Canadian grown.
  2. Peas - very low pesticide load conventionally grown
  3. Mango- very low pesticide load conventionally grown
  4. Blueberries - low pesticide load conventionally grown
  5. Organic Strawberries

Top 10 ALWAYS Organic
The pesticide residue on all these items are really higher than I would like to eat myself let alone offer to my children.
  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Strawberries
  4. Nectarines
  5. Pears
  6. Bell Peppers
  7. Lettuce
  8. Celery
  9. Spinach
  10. Potatoes

Top 10 to Buy Local In Season:
Support local growers whenever you can! All these items are low in pesticide residue unless noted.
  1. Peaches - Organic or at least Chem Free.
  2. Apples - Organic or at least Chem Free.
  3. Tomatoes - Yumm!
  4. Corn - Local for the fresh taste, sweet corn is one of the least likely to harbor residual pesticide load.
  5. Blueberries and especially Wild Blueberries - Full of anti-oxidants in the skin, moderate pesticide load when in traditional blueberries and reasonable to assume that the more honestly wild ones, and thereby less sprayed, locally available would be even lower in load perhaps, if tested.
  6. Rhubarb
  7. Sweet Potatoes
  8. Broccoli
  9. Eggplant - (never thought I would have use for this untill I discovered Eggplant Bolognesse!)
  10. Zucchini

Top 10 to Buy Conventional:
Since they are all low in pesticide residue, many are not available locally and augment the local northern winter crop, or lack thereof....
  1. Kiwi
  2. Mango
  3. Pineapple (unless your juicing the skin, then I go for the organic)
  4. Asparagus
  5. Onions
  6. Avocado
  7. Banana (for price only since they are low on the pesticide residue after peeled but they taste soooo much better organic! Fair trade would be even better but I just can't afford it)
  8. Cabbage
  9. Tomato sauce in glass jars.
  10. Legumes


Friday, September 19, 2008


Hi there and welcome to my new blog!

Every since I had my first child I have been getting greener and greener. It began, I think, with simply reading the back of food boxes. I had been reading the back of boxes a long time ago but once I had the kiddies I started really caring about avoiding all the fake stuff, sugars and salts running rampant in packaged foods. Not a stretch when your also reading about the biological effects of additives in food. Obesity, negative cognitive effects I(ADHD, effects on autism, sleep troubles and so on), physical dependencies on sugars and salt, just to start. All things I would like to mitigate as much as I can for my kids, all things I can effect change on.

Next I began to think about the environment my kids are in. Bisphenol, phthalates, plastic off-gassing and chipped paint. My second, Zane, is a mouther. In his first year he had to taste and chew on everything! Toys, books, rocks, soap. From the most obvious to the most obtuse, he would give it a chew and I would get thinking about it. I know a lot about airborne particulate and off-gassing of foams, plastics and fire retardants from many years running my own company as a Corporate Interior Designer. And I would think, " if I don't like what he's chewing on, and the airborne chemicals relates to it, how do I feel about the process to manufacturer it?"

So, here we are.

In this blog I hope to diary all the wonderful things I have learnt about becoming Planet Friendly with my kids and share it with you. My greatest focus will be Planet Friendly play and sustainable fun, but I also will share anything else I can about our own experiences becoming eco-friendly as a family.

I hope you enjoy this blog and I welcome and comments and suggestions you may have to make it even better.

thanks for stopping by!