Whether it's a plastic train set or a plush stuffed animal, toys often end up in babies' mouths. As the demand for organic products increases, parents are on the hunt for nontoxic toys made with sustainable materials.
"Younger children often play with toys by putting them in their mouths," says Melissa Beese, founder of Little Pnuts (504-267-0873; www.littlepnuts.com), a subscription toy delivery service specializing in organic and sustainable toys. "It's another way of learning. But a lot of the toys parents are giving their children are made with toxic materials like lead and formaldehyde, and they don't even know it."
After the birth of her son Tristan, Beese made knowing the composition of toys a priority. Born four months premature, Tristan experienced developmental problems. Beese wanted fun, challenging toys that would help Tristan overcome those problems by developing his motor skills and concentration. She also wanted them to be made of natural materials, not plastic.
"It became really difficult for me to find toys for him in the American market," Beese says. "I'd walk into toy stores and there would be one battery-operated toy after another. Luckily, both my mother and husband are from Germany, so when we would visit, I'd always end up bringing a second suitcase to fill with the eco-friendly, wooden toys we'd find there."
These beautiful, handmade toys, intended to help children develop and learn through play, led Beese to start Little Pnuts, the quarterly delivery program that sends developmentally appropriate, eco-friendly toys to children up to 6 years old.
"We send out the toys in accordance with the child's birthday, so when their deliveries arrive on their doorsteps, they are specifically curated to help [the child] reach their [developmental] milestones," Beese says.
Erin Pelias' natural parenting boutique, ZukaBaby (2122 Magazine St., 504-596-6540; www.zukababy.com), also offers eco-friendly toys. ZukaBaby's toys are mostly wooden and made with water-soluble or water-based paints and dyes. Pelias encourages parents to be aware of the materials used in making the toys they're buying.
"While we may not have control over our exposure to the environmental toxins we experience daily, we do have control over whether our children are exposed to toxins in the toys and clothes we buy for them," Pelias says.
Although organic toys aren't usually the most inexpensive on the market, Pelias says they promote both sustainability (thanks to their heirloom quality) and socially responsible manufacturing.
"A lot of the companies we try to support uphold the same environmental and social beliefs we do," Pelias says. "Their employees are being paid better wages and are working in better conditions. Those things do affect the price of the end product, but it's also about building a community where we want that quality of life, not just for ourselves, but for everyone."
Pelias and Beese have noticed New Orleans' shift to the green side.
"The past five years I've lived here, I've been impressed by how quickly [parents] have gotten into the thought process of wanting to be more eco-friendly," Beese says.
Little Pnut's subscription base continues to grow as the green movements of the East and West Coasts spread.
"When you look at our demographics, you'll see that we're not just reaching New York and Los Angeles," Beese says. "We're also reaching places like Alabama, Texas and Pennsylvania, which is a great sign."