There is a growing concern among parents in the United States about the potential long-term impacts on children of continued exposure to plastics. A few years ago, there was a big push to remove BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups. When evidence showed that the chemical replacing BPA in plastic might be even more harmful, I -- and many other environmentalists -- began advocating for consumers to switch to glass or metal baby drinkware. But, as any modern parent knows, the list of plastic items youngsters end up sticking in their mouths goes far beyond mealtime gear.
While company's like Melissa & Doug have built empires on wooden toy alternatives, other companies have been looking for ways to make plastic toys non-toxic. Kids Preferred, one of the world's largest manufacturers of plush toys and gifts, is making a play in this new space with their new "Bioseries Toys collection." These traditional-looking toys -- stacking toys, shape cubes, and the like -- are made from bio-based plastic. This material has specifically been designed "by parents to develop little ones' coordination and motor skills without the risk of harmful chemicals."
So, how are these toys of the future actually made? The material, known as PLA, replaces petroleum with renewable resources. Over 90% of the material is from annually renewable plants (starch), and the additives for durability they need are also non-petroleum based. Even the coloring compounds come from sustainable natural sources.
This technology was actually invented in the 1930s by Wallace Carothers, an organic chemist working at DuPont. (He also invented Nylon, in his spare time). However, at the time, PLA was too expensive to developed on an industrial scale. It was "rediscovered" in the 1990s by Nature Works, LLC when they went looking for new materials to meet the growing demands of concerned parents, spurred on by the Green Movement. In the 2000s, Ingeo™, the company Kids Preferred sources their plastic from, did further R&D and was able to create an industrial scale factory in 2001 in Blair, Nebraska, thereby bringing PLA into the mainstream.
Kids Preferred has also been innovative using the substance. The manufacturing technology they invented (patent pending) allows them to crystallize PLA to a higher level than possible with conventional injection molding methods. The process bring PLA both high heat resistance and durability. Toys made with it are strong enough to pass mechanical safety tests worldwide, and can be soaked in very hot water without changing shape.
In addition to being made using renewable resources, Bioseries' bioplastics technology produces considerably fewer greenhouse gas emissions and omits harmful substances such as BPA, PVC, Phthalates, Styrenes and heavy metals. However, their eco-friendly material is not their biggest selling point. Their design is also exciting and unique. Each toy features rich colors and interesting textures -- often silky smooth on one surface and rough on another -- to captivate any toddler.
The minute you touch Kids Preferred toys you know there's something different about them. When your kid starts gnawing on the corner of one of these toys a minute later, you realize you've just purchased something precious: peace of mind!