North America’s first and only third-party “sustainable” toy standard, UL 172, was recently established by UL Environment in Northbrook Ill., a division of Underwriters Laboratories. In general, UL Environment’s goal is to advance global sustainability, environmental health, and safety. UL 172, for example, basically covers toy toxicity. UL 172 requires testing and verification of toys for measurable carcinogens, certain neurotoxins, antimicrobial agents, heavy metals, and added fragrances. Its criteria meet or exceed U.S. and EU requirements for toy toxicity.
The standard also limits emissions of volatile organic compounds, thought to be a key contributor to childhood asthma, and helps minimize pollution generated by the production, use, and disposal of toys and their packaging.
UL 172 applies to toys made from wood, plastic, rubber, textiles, metal, and bio-based materials — from balls and action figures to costume clothing and jewelry. Due to the high number and diversity of toy components on the market, certain categories of toys, such as arts and crafts, cosmetics, video games, and sporting equipment, are not covered by the standard.
“While there are standards addressing toy safety, such as choking hazards, there are no North American standards to address toxicity,” says Catherine Wilt, director of the Center for Clean Products at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment. “Toxic toy recalls in recent years have made consumers increasingly wary about the safety of toys. Certification to UL 172 will provide toy buyers more peace of mind while giving innovative manufacturers the credit they deserve.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were at least 45 toxic toy recalls between 2008 and 2011. All 45 recalls involved toys manufactured outside the U.S. (Any toy manufacturer in the world can apply for UL 172 certification.)
UL Environment had no comment about how it tests for toxicity or how long certification takes.