Lawmakers in the EU are in the process of updating the toy safety rules. The European Parliament and the Council of the EU are currently amending the European Commission’s proposed changes.
Did you know a plastic toy fork for a doll has more rules than a plastic fork a child eats with?
First thing to know
The existing toy safety rules in the EU are among the strictest in the world. Toys compliant with these rules – toys from reputable manufacturers - are already very safe.
Why change the rules if toys are safe?
The European Commission sets out two main reasons for the changes. Firstly, they feel children need to be better protected against certain chemicals. This is why they propose a general ban on the most toxic substances. They also want to tackle the large number of unsafe toys reaching the EU market.
The latter point does not take into account that most of the unsafe toys, often sold online, come from unscrupulous manufacturers, generally from outside the EU. They ignore the current safety rules and will continue to ignore the new rules.
On the protection against toxic chemicals, the proposal does not take into account that under the current rules, the mandatory chemical safety assessments already protect children from unwanted exposure to chemicals.
Why do reputable toy makers not support rules that will make toys for the most vulnerable part of the population safer?
We support the elements in the proposal that really do make a difference in terms of safety. Exactly because we cater for vulnerable consumers, we have always accepted we need to do better than most other consumer products. But a big part of the proposal is motivated by the Commission’s Green Deal agenda and its Sustainable Chemicals Strategy. Other consumer products should have the same strict sustainability requirements as toys.
On sustainability, we want to continue to improve, we agree that a sustainable planet will be a healthier planet. But we need a broader legislation on alternative materials that applies across all sectors, not just toys. The toy sector is too small a market for suppliers to invest in alternative materials – if suppliers have to invest just for our sector, the prices will be unaffordable.
A doll’s manufacturer will not find doll’s clothing that will meet high sustainability criteria unless all clothing needs to meet these.
What harm can it be to make toys extra, extra, extra safe?
Under the current rules, toys are already extra safe. A plastic toy fork has more requirements than a plastic fork a child eats with. A doll’s clothing is more strictly regulated than children’s clothing and disguise costumes are more strictly regulated than children’s bed sheets.
What the new rules risk doing is: 1) banning well-loved safe toys and 2) crippling small European manufacturers who already go to great lengths to ensure children can play safely with their toys.
99% of European toymakers are SMEs, often heritage family companies producing a small range of toys, located in regions such as the Jura in France, Alicante in Spain and dotted all over Germany. They must not be unfairly regulated while trying to compete with rogue traders.
Surely new rules will target those rogue traders?
That’s the intention, but our years of experience in the sector show us that the reality will be different. New rules will have little effect on these rogue traders: they will simply continue to disregard them. Even the proposed Digital Product Passport can be faked or sidestepped, and there are not enough resources to enforce it.
What are the concrete effects of what is now on the table?
Examples from proposed changes on the table in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee:
- Drastic bans of some elements, already restricted at safe levels, could lead to the banning of some safe toys. This is especially the case for those elements that are naturally occurring in widely used raw materials, like water, clay, colour pigments, corn etc…. We will be in the bizarre situation where corn that is used for food will not be allowed to be used for toys.
- Worrying uncertainties about continuity for current and future derogations to the generic ban on substances for perfectly safe uses such as stainless steel used for screws, bolts, nuts, etc. to be corrosion-proof for outdoor toys (trampolines, etc.)
- Conformity assessment procedures that are especially burdensome – to the point of impossible – for small companies. They will need to invest very heavily in for instance proving that some substances which they know to be absent are not present in the toy.
- Latex balloons will be banned because the new rules set unrealistically low nitrosamine limits that go against scientific evaluations confirming current limits in the standard EN 71.12 are already safe.
- The banning of some – perfectly safe – smells will substantially change the consumer experience of some toys, for instance where a specific smell is part of their DNA
Examples from the Commission’s proposal:
- The transition period is too short to allow manufacturers to be compliant with the new rules in time. A range of implementing or delegated acts and updates of standards need to happen before the new rules become applicable. Only once these new details are known, manufacturers can start producing their toys. For numerous reasons, including seasonality and the need to adhere to strict safety considerations, there is a need for a long lead time .
- A ‘sell through period’ is introduced after which perfectly safe toys compliant with the current rules can no longer be sold (1 year in the Commission’s proposal). Safe toys already on the shelves will need to be destroyed. This will have a huge negative (environmental) impact and will also lead to a lack of orders from retailers, putting the business of SME manufacturers at risk.
So what would you suggest to ensure that children get less unsafe toys in their hands?
We agree that some changes to the existing rules will provide even safer toys if companies adhere to them:
- Turning the Directive into a Regulation will limit different interpretations between Member States: what is unsafe in one EU country will be unsafe everywhere.
- Currently only the toys for young children (-3yrs) must respect 20 more restrictive limits. This considers the way they play (with lots of touching, holding and possibly sucking). Even though older children interact different with toys, it makes sense to also introduce a list of limits for them.
- But the limits for toys used by younger children should not just be copied for toys used by older children. Children play with toys in various ways depending on their age, and limits should take into account appropriate and relevant exposure scenario. If no difference is made, brake pads for bicycles would need to follow the same restrictions as rattles which babies may chew on.
- And let’s not forget that especially for children above 3, it often makes sense to apply restrictions to all types of products they are in contact with. This is already done through horizontal legislation such as REACH, which includes (a growing number of) restrictions that also apply to toys.
- The limits for nitrosamines in the old Directive are outdated, it would be better to introduce into the Regulation the stricter limits set out in Standard EN71.12. Reputable manufacturers already use this Standard.
- The limits set out in EN71.12 are based on scientific study and guarantee safety. There is no need to restrict them even further.
- The full ban for Endocrine Disruptors for Human Health. Even though toys compliant with the current rules pose no risk from endocrine disruptors, the recent establishment of criteria for classification under CLP legislation justifies the inclusion of a ban in the Toy Safety Regulation.
- It makes sense to help customs and market surveillance by using a Digital Product Passport.
- But this will help only in a limited way in the fight against rogue traders. The passport can be faked and just because a toy has a passport does not mean it is safe. Thorough testing and checks will still need to be carried out.
- And the product passport needs to be manageable for the many toy companies that are SMEs and for whom this will be a considerable effort.