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?

No comments: