Limit your plastics
Plastics are made with petrochemicals which have a large carbon footprint and take at least 500 years to begin to degrade in a landfill.
If your going to buy plastics try to find products made with recycled plastics that are already on their second life. If it has to be that 'must have mass marketed' toy try to stick to ones that are healthier to have around by the manufacturers who have phased out PVC, pthalates and Bispenol-A in their products.
Consider the source
Buying wooden toys is a great choice but not all woods are created equal. Many forests of the world are being lost to deforestation, current estimates are that we are loosing an average of 36 football fields of forest a minute. Look for certified wood toys and games such as ones labelled FSC certified or products made in countries like Canada, the US, and Europe where better wood sourcing regulations and sustainable forestry practices are in effect.
As with foods, the less processing the better. Look for toys made with natural materials like solid woods and natural fabrics (organic cotton, wool or hemp). When buying cosmetics like nail polish and lip glosses make sure they are natural too. Traditional lip glosses are made with petrochemicals and nail polishes with nasty chemicals like thulane, acetone and formaldehyde. Things, if we gave it some thought, we wouldn't want on ourselves, let along on our kids. There are great natural options out there free of all these harsh materials.Look for recycled content
There are more and more fantastic products out there made from recycled materials and many responsible manufacturers are letting you know what their toys are made of right on the box. Look for at least 30% recycled wood-source in paper and cardboard products and toys made with recycled plastics from things like milk jugs.
Spend your money on less packaging.
There's nothing that takes the fun out of getting a gift like packaging that keeps kids from enjoying their gift. Blister sealed boxes, twist ties and stitched in doll hair don't just spoil the fun by taking forever to open but cost you money and create lots of garbage. Toy packaging can easily be 10% to more than 60% of what your wrapping up and putting a gift tag on - that can add up to quite a lot of wasted money and packaging going straight to the dump.
Even if they aren't as green as the grass grows buying local gifts are a great choice. Buying local means a smaller carbon footprint since it hasn't had had to travel far to get to you. Your also help sustain local businesses and provide local employment.
Fair warning though, while buying from a local craftsmen and craft shows is great because you can ask the maker questions about their products, labels like "Made in Canada" only mean a percentage of the manufacturing and financing has to be Canadian, the items may only have been assembled and packaged in Canada but the materials and components could have been sourced anywhere else in the world.
Say no to batteries
Not only will you go thru many batteries, which contain mercury, but electronic toys themselves are made with heavy metals and toxic chemicals.
Find a retailer you can trust
It can seem daunting, especially during the holidays, to have to do your research at the same time that your looking for that perfect gift. Finding a retailer, either locally or online, who has done the homework for you already makes things much easier. There are businesses out there who have taken the time to research the products they carry and are happy to share that information with their customers. Look for retailers who are pleased to answer questions - and know the answers! - and businesses who have provided additional information about the items they carry as an added value to customers.
In the end remember the old adage "It's the thought that counts" and enjoy the holidays with those your love.
Written by Barbara Fine, a Canadian mom of 2 kids with a passion for the planet who believes every little step we make towards being a little greener can add up to a whole lot if we all do it together. Barbara is also the owner of Little Footprints an online toy store specializing in eco friendly fun and gear for kids of all ages. www.littlefootprintstoys.com