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Now it's easier to play green

Parents who want nontoxic toys for their kids are finding more choices.

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"I think the toy industry has been out to lunch on this whole environmental issue," says Ed Schmults, CEO of F.A.O. Schwartz toy stores. "In the next five years, we'll see a solid move to broader options and more availability."

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This isn't to say that the aisles of mass-market toy stores are going to be filled with sustainable wood and organic cotton in the next few months. "The proof is going to be in the toys that show up in the next holiday season," says Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which runs healthytoys.org, a website that tests toys for parents.

"If parents are demanding these types of products, the market is going to provide them," says Rob Herriott, director of international relations and regulatory affairs for the Toy Industry Association.

But Mr. Herriott and others say that parents shouldn't worry that they're risking their child's health by buying a plastic action figure. The recalled toys were recalled precisely because they didn't meet US safety standards.

Some environmentalists say that it's premature to herald a permanent change in the shopping habits of US parents. "Most people, I really think they forget about [the recalls]," says Sam Pearson, an environmental activist and mother of two in Lewisburg, Pa.

Ms. Pearson, who studied green building under pioneer William McDonough, believes efforts to eliminate PVCs are positive but says that the fuss over toys misses the point: "We're surrounded by so many toxic materials, that toys are such a small part of it."

But others say that at least consumers are considering the issues. "I do think if anything good comes out of this, it has really forced parents to think," says Mr. Schmults.

Of course, there's still the fun factor to consider: If a toy doesn't have it, all the water-based paint in the world isn't going to make a child play with it. "It's a tough battle," says Sebestyen. "You want to be environmentally conscious and want to buy safe toys. At the same time, [the kids] want Spider-Man."

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