Natural Toys and Games for a Green Holiday

Reader Contribution by John Ivanko
1 / 2
2 / 2

There’s no reason not to “go green” when picking up a game for a young loved one. Despite the abundance of “Made in China” plastic toys and games that line the aisles, some companies have made it their business to create amazingly fun toys and games for children in ways that protect, preserve or restore the planet. When attending the Chicago Toy & Game Show the weekend before Thanksgiving, I had a chance to check out a few.

Organic Rubberwood Toys

The award-winning PlanToys, a Thailand-based company, is creating a more sustainable world through play through their delightful toys for babies, toddlers and young children. Depending on the toys, they may use organic rubberwood, an “e-zero” non-formaldehyde glue, water-based, non-toxic dyes for coloring their toys or soy or water-based inks. Since 2010, PlayToys has been using a high-density fiber composite wood made from reclaimed wood particles left from the manufacturing process of toys in the factory. They call it PlanWood. The process allows the toys to be made safe, stronger and more durable while earning the company the distinction as the first wooden toys company in the world using this method.

“Most toy companies are using materials that are, first and foremost, cheap,” explains Jay Chanthalangsy, PlanToys’ Marketing Director who was at the Chicago Toy and Game Show.  “The way certain companies make plastic toys is to take a vinyl plastic, that very inexpensive, and add materials like antimony, arsenic, or mercury. This in turn makes the plastic more malleable as they are heated and molded into shapes. As safety insurance for heating and melting the plastic, they often add Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), which makes the plastic flame retardant. Needless to say none of these materials are something a child should be around, much less a part of the toy that will eventually end up in their mouth.”

For PlanToys, however, going green doesn’t stop with the toys. It reaches many other facets of their operations, in part, powered by a photovoltaic system on site. Day-lighting is used to illuminate their factory workspace and a solar drying kiln is used for their wood products. With the goal to use every possible part of the tree in toys’ production and reduce waste to zero, a biomass power plant is built on site where leftover woodchips, sawdust from PlanToys factory and agricultural waste from the surrounding communities are used as raw material in gasification process to produce electricity sold to the Provincial Electricity Authority of Thailand that supplies it to local communities.

“The inspiration for being sustainable stems from our founder, Vitool Viraponsavan,” says Chanthalangsy. “The village he grew up in, in southern Thailand called Trang, was covered with wild rubberwood trees.  Growing up among the rubberwood trees he developed a great sense of appreciation for nature, the environment and what man can create with nature’s resources, in this case the rubberwood trees.  After finishing architecture school, Viraponsavan, along with seven others, was compelled to contribute and build a more sustainable world.  Thus creating PlanToys and giving life to the ideal of sustainable play, hoping to build the foundation of how our toys can cultivate creative minds and bring children who come into contact with our toys closer to nature.”

Eco-Friendly Game of Wordplay

This same concern for the environment is shared by txTylz founder, Joan Severance, a movie actress turned toy inventor with a passion for helping people cultivate their creative intelligence. The object of the txTylz is to use square-ish game wordplay pieces to express words or “whatever makes sense” before time runs out while other players try to gain points off your demise. The txTylz pieces may be used phonetically (as they sound), literally (as they are spelled) and symbolically (as they look) to say whatever makes sense in 2 minutes.

“Playing with and touching natural materials, in all types of products, benefits the soul, learning experience and the planet,” shares Severance. “As we are connected with nature it makes sense that the vibrations would recognize each other and therefore compliment every aspect of our lives including learning and creativity.”

The wooden, hand-crafted pieces are made in the USA (imagine that?). The Playing Pouch is also the container for the game pieces. Each piece is hand stamped with low VOC ink. “This game will last a lifetime and was created in wood because I remember playing with wood games when I was young and we still have them in our family,” writes Severance.

Sustainable Wooden Toys

I also discovered a few other games worth considering. The Swiss-made Cuboro marble track game features beech wooden tracks and blocks made from 100-percent Forest Stewardship Council-certified (FSC) wood. For block-builders, The Un-block , an interlocking block building set, is made in the USA from ash trees which — if things keep going the way they are with the devastating Emerald Ash Borer — put these hardwood trees to great use before the insects do away with them.All these toys and games kinda make me want to be a kid all over again.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance (, the award-winning ECOpreneuring ( and Farmstead Chef ( along with operating Inn Serendipity ( B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun.  Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs.  Ivanko writes and contributes photography to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living” (  They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. 

Photos: Courtesy of PlanToys and txTylz