Enjoy a phthalates, lead, cadmium and mercury-free Christmas.

Or, more particularly, keep these toxic chemicals away from your children when it comes to buying them plastic gifts.

Avoiding dangerous plastics over the holiday season can be quite a challenge. After all, we want to buy our children the gifts on their lists. It’s a time when we tend to put away our own concerns about the dangers of plastics, and focus instead on pleasing our children, and watching their smiles when they open the gifts from under the tree.

As with so many things when it comes to raising our children in a safe environment, it’s a matter of balance.

While you prepare your shopping lists, here are a few things to watch for.

First, be cautious about soft plastic toys.

These are the plastic toys you can squeeze and bend. A generation ago, these were made of rubber. But today they are made from PVC.

PVC contains endocrine disruptors, which interfere with the hormonal balance in your body. Young children are particularly vulnerable.

Many PVC products also include traces of cadmium and lead, both of which are highly toxic.

For alternatives, you can find PVC-free toys for babies and younger children at Amazon.com.

And if you don’t want to deprive your younger children of the pleasure of playing with rubber ducks in the bath, you can also find phthalates-free rubber ducks at Amazon.com.

Second, watch for painted plastic toys.

Hundreds of millions of small plastic toys are imported into North America and Europe each year, most of them coming from China.

It’s impossible to check every individual package coming into our ports, and regulations are not very well policed in China. As a result, a lot of toxic plastic toys end up on store shelves, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

Above all, you should avoid plastic toys which have been painted. In these cases, it's not just the plastics you should worry about, but also the paints. These paints can contain, among other things, dangerous levels of lead, which is extremely toxic.

In particular, avoid painted plastic toys which children are likely to put in their mouths.

Third, avoid cheap plastic and metal jewelry and accessories.

Whether you are buying accessories for your children, or for their dolls or action figures, you should not only avoid plastics, but also metals. Items of cheap jewelry for children are often made of metal, but these metals are alloys. And those inexpensive alloys often contain both lead and mercury.

Whenever possible, look for alternatives to plastic.

As I said, it’s hard to deny your children the toys they ask for. If plastic is unavoidable, work hard to avoid cheap plastics which are not produced by major brands. Better still, look for toys made of more traditional materials, like wood.

Further reading...

Bad plastics...

Alternatives to plastics...