The Best Natural and Plastic-Free Baby Toys and Products
Right from birth, babies are surrounded by plastic in many different forms: from clothing, to toys, to furniture and more. And growing evidence is showing that babies are also consuming a lot of plastic in the form of microplastics.
While we don’t yet know the full health or environmental effects of microplastics (although there is a possible correlation with microplastics and IBS and some worrying research about microplastics crossing the blood-brain barrier), I think we can all agree that it’s probably for the best to limit how much plastic babies are ingesting.
What is PET and where do microplastics come from?
The baby study specifically found large amounts of polyethylene terephthalate or PET microplastics. PET is likely the plastic you encounter the most and is used in packaging and many household products. It’s also very commonly found in the form of polyester fibre.
We know that synthetic clothing sheds plastic microfibres when washed. These fibres are now abundant in our ocean and water systems, and have been found all over the world — even the top of Everest. Microplastic fibres are also in the food we eat and in our bodies. Polyester and other synthetic fibres are not just in our clothing, but also in our furniture, carpets, toys and many other products we use daily.
Microplastics are also created through abrasion, and when plastics break down and degrade, such as from tires wearing down, sponges breaking apart, paints rubbing off, or… chewing. Heat can also increase the breakdown of plastic — especially important to be aware of with bottles and other feeding products that might be heated.
Because they are so tiny and often invisible, we can easily consume microplastics — especially true for babies who are exploring the world with their mouths.
Microplastics are unfortunately all around us, but here are some common microplastic sources in the home that children frequently encounter, and some easy plastic-free swaps you can make to reduce the amount your baby encounters and consumes:
Top 5 Plastic-Free Swaps for Babies & Children
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Toys – Especially Stuffed Animals
Those sweet fluffy animals we love to give babies are unfortunately made from polyester and other synthetic fibers. With the added wear, tear, and teething/sucking they get, these snuggly friends make likely culprits for microfiber ingestion.
I’ve also noticed that similar to fast fashion, cheaply made stuffed animals fall apart way faster. We were unfortunately given a little teddy bear when my daughter was born and bits of fur would come off in my hand just picking it up (we did not give it to her). This synthetic fur is not only bad for the environment but easily ingested by babies.
Plastic-free and Organic Stuffed Toys
- Apple Park – makes lovely animals and baby doll toys from 100% organic cotton and stuffed with a corn fiber stuffing. We love the Apple Park organic dolls as an alternative to plastic dolls (pictured below).
- Under the Nile – has toys made in a fair trade certified factory from organic and bio-dynamically farmed cotton and stuffed with organic cotton too! Their organic breathable loveys make an especially good choice for babies.
- Ouistitine – hand makes toys and stuffies from natural and reclaimed materials (such as upcycled wool sweaters).
- Finn & Emma – has a variety of natural toys including cute crochet toys made from organic cotton yarn.
- Tikiri Toys – makes animals and dolls from organic cotton and regular cotton.
- Bebemoss – has adorable hand crocheted toys made with organic cotton yarn.
- Cate & Levi – upcycles wool sweaters into lovely puppets and stuffed toys (they also have DIY kits so you can make your own!).
- Main Sauvage – has hand-knit toys made from alpaca wool in a fair trade factory in Bolivia.
Other Natural and Non-Toxic Baby Toys
Sticking to natural materials like wood, rubber, metal or bamboo is best for toys and also look for brands that use tested safe, non-toxic paints. Here are some of our favorites:
- Smiling Tree Toys – sustainably harvested wood toys with organic oil finishes.
- Once Kids – bamboo and FSC certified wooden toys – their “Eco-Bricks” are a fantastic alternative to plastic Lego!
- Erzi – wooden toys, we especially love their play food! (German Company with international retailers)
- Wee Gallery – bamboo and cotton toys with very cute designs (bamboo numbers pictured below).
- LOVEVERY – while they do have some plastic products and toys in their playkits, I want to highlight LOVEVERY’s wooden block set which is incredibly well designed for endless play and development stages — we play with it almost daily.
EarthHero is also a great marketplace with lots of options for sustainable and plastic-free toys and other baby products.
Bottles, Dishes & Utensils
A shocking study found that babies fed with plastic bottles are exposed to an average of 1.6 million microplastic particles a day compared to the 300 – 600 adults typically consume. The daily process of sterilizing, preparing, and heating all cause the plastic of the bottles and containers to wear down and release microplastics into the formula or milk.
We also know that babies, especially while teething, chew on everything and are still learning to eat so plastic utensils and feeding products get a lot of wear and tear which likely also results in microplastics being consumed.
Plastic-free Baby Bottles
- Lifefactory – both glass and stainless steel bottles with silicone nipples and a silicone sleeve for grip – we started using these later with the sippy lid attachment and they’ve been great
- Kleen Kanteen – stainless steel bottles with medical grade silicone nipples
- HEVEA – glass baby bottles with natural rubber nipples
- Phillips Avent – glass bottles with silicone nipples. We ended up using these because we needed bottles in a pinch and while I typically would choose to support a smaller brand than Philips, these were the best rated, most accessible ones. They worked great for us as I ended up using the Philips pump as well.
Plastic-free Feeding – Dishes and Utensils
- Bambu – bamboo utensils.
- Avanchy – bamboo or stainless steel and silicone bowls, plates and spoons – these are what we primarily use (buy them in Canada here)
- ezpz – silicone bowls and dish mats – great for feeding or play!
Is Silicone Safe for Babies?
Let’s chat quickly about silicone, because silicone can be considered a plastic and it is a synthetic material, although it’s also different than the plastics we’ve been discussing.
Unlike most plastics, silicone is extremely durable, stable, and non-reactive. This means that it is considered a safe, non-toxic option and it doesn’t shed microplastics. However environmentally it also means that it doesn’t biodegrade well and isn’t easily recyclable. There is also a potential issue with fillers and traces of lead, so it’s important to only use food-grade or medical-grade silicone.
My thoughts on silicone: Plastic has undeniable benefits as a flexible material and I think silicone can be a good, safer alternative in cases. We used a variety of silicone products including bottle nipples, utensils, dishes, and some teethers.
Pacifiers & Teethers
This one seems a pretty obvious source of microplastic ingestion as it’s something babies are literally sucking and chewing on. They say to replace soothers at any sign of wear, however by the time abrasions and wear can be seen there has likely been undetectable micro abrasions and deterioration leading up to that.
Plastic Free/Natural Pacifiers and Teething Toys
To avoid your baby ingesting micro bits of plastic pacifiers and teethers stick to natural materials such as natural rubber (but don’t use if there’s a latex allergy), wood, and as mentioned above, medical or food-grade silicone. Some of our favourites are:
- Hevea – natural rubber pacifiers and teething toys – these are the soothers we use (pictured above).
- Eco Piggy – also makes natural rubber pacifiers – my daughter really loves their Calmies Ecoteether and even though she’s no longer teething she loves holding it while sleeping (pictured above).
- Finn & Emma – makes cute wooden and organic cotton teething toys and pacifier holders.
We’ve talked a lot here on MGC about microfiber pollution so we know synthetic clothing is a big culprit of microplastics. These not only pollute our oceans and rivers but can also be ingested by us and our children.
An easy way to avoid this is by sticking to natural fibre clothing such as cotton, linen, Tencel, or wool. If you do have to use synthetic materials, like for swimwear or winter coats, be sure to wash them in a Guppyfriend Bag or with a Cora Ball to help capture the plastic fibers so they can be safely disposed of.
Check out my list of organic and sustainable baby and children clothing brands for lots of natural clothing options and our tried and tested favorites.
Carpets & Rugs
A study found that homes with carpet as the main flooring had nearly double the amount of synthetic microfibers in dust samples. So it’s best to use natural material floor coverings where possible, but especially try to focus on bedrooms, playrooms, or areas where you baby will be crawling and playing the most.
Natural Rugs and Carpets
- Made Trade – while not specifically designed for babies, they have a large selection of artisan made wool rugs – we have one in my daughters room!
- Willaby – handwoven, washable organic cotton rugs in colours perfect for a nursery or playroom.
- Lorena Canals – very cute washable cotton rugs as well as other natural nursery decor pieces.
- Under the Nile – handwoven rugs made from scraps of organic cotton from their clothing and toy production.
- Novica – a variety of artisan made natural fibre rugs.
- Hook & Loom – a large variety of recycled or organic cotton, and undyed wool rugs.
- Under the Nile – zero waste handloomed rugs made from scrap organic cotton from their clothing and toy production.
- Pure Earth Collection – play mats made from cork.
- Scoria – yoga/play mats made from cork.
- Colin Campbell “Nature’s Carpet Collection” – 100% natural wool carpets, their “dark green” options include undyed wool, no insecticides or chemical additives, and a natural latex adhesive.
For more ways to reduce your microplastic exposure check out 10 simple ways to avoid microplastics in your everyday life.
Updated April 7, 2022