You may have heard by now about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that went into effect February 10th. This law requires that all products — including clothes, toys, and even books — intended for sale to children 12 and under be tested for lead and phthalates. If the item isn’t tested and passed, it cannot be sold. This has no impact on new, mass produced products; anything new will be manufactured to comply with the guidelines. However, used and handmade items are presenting a big problem.
Thrift stores, most of which cannot afford to have their products tested, must throw away anything that isn’t tested. This means that tons of used toys and clothes are headed for the landfill. Some stores might go out of business because the kids’ market is a huge part of their revenue. And in a tight economy, this is very bad news for people who rely on the secondary market to clothe their kids and provide them with toys. Technically, the law also means that you can’t sell any untested items on eBay or at your spring yard sale. So if you need cash, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Until enough “new” products churn through the system and make their way to the secondary market, there is going to be a shortage of affordable kid’s clothes and toys in the used market.
The government has admitted that they had a “duh” moment in crafting this law and that they never considered the effects on the secondary market. But they also haven’t done anything yet to correct the law or make exceptions. So for now, untested items for kids are off limits. You could argue all day about whether this a good law or not. Personally, I think the idea of protecting new items is fine, but to require that everything old be tested is ridiculous. Leave it up to the parents to determine how comfortable they are with the risk and let them purchase accordingly. Or, have waivers at the thrift stores that parents can sign acknowledging that they understand the risk but are choosing to buy anyway. In this way the used market could carry on. Especially in down times like we have now, these secondary markets are important both to parents who need cheaper alternatives and to the local economy that needs the jobs the thrift stores provide. I think the law is a case of government intervention gone too far, but you may disagree.
I didn’t really process the damage this law was doing until I had a talk with a friend who is a toy maker. He is an older gentleman who makes wooden toys. He sells some for a little extra income, but mostly he makes them for kids who are severely ill and in the hospital, kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them toys, or kids who are victims of crime or fire. With the passage of this law, he is effectively out of business. He cannot afford to have his toys tested. He knows he uses lead free paints and materials because he is very conscious of the issues and refuses materials that he cannot be certain of. However, it is expensive to prove that in order to satisfy the new law. This means that he can no longer sell or give his toys away. It makes me sad to think that there are a lot of deserving kids who will go without toys in the future because this man cannot give away his creations.
My friend also reminded me that the program in which firefighters and cops give out teddy bears to kids who have been the victims of crimes, accidents, or fire is in danger, as well. Since many of these bears are donated used but in good condition, they can no longer accept them. The departments cannot afford to have them all tested; neither can they afford to buy all new stuffed animals. This means that some kids will receive no comfort when they are in need of it most. Other social programs are likely in danger, as well. Libraries may have to toss out tons of children’s books and refuse donations of used ones. Toy drives and winter clothing drives that rely on donations of gently used items may not be able to collect this year. It’s a mess.
It’s bad enough that in a down economy parents are being left without cheap options to clothe their kids. It’s bad enough that some thrift stores are in danger of closing and shedding the associated jobs. And it’s bad enough that the landfills are filling up with perfectly useable and wanted items. But when deserving and needy kids are being denied good toys and the comfort of a teddy bear, I say things have gone too far.
So what can you do to help? If you have the means, purchase new children’s clothes and toys and donate them to your local thrift store. Leave the tags on and provide a dated receipt so that the store can tell they comply with the new law. Purchase new stuffed animals and give them to your local fire or police department. Again, leave the tags on and provide a receipt if you can. Purchase new toys and donate them to your local hospital so they can give them to ill children. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Just a few small toys or stuffed animals will go a long way. Help repopulate the secondary market with items that comply with the new law. If you can’t give items, donate money so that the organization can buy what they need. Your donations will help keep these businesses and programs operating and if you donate to a tax exempt organization, you can take a tax deduction next year.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that will help my friend the toy maker and others like him. Unless he’s willing to pay for testing (or a fairy godmother pays for him) or the law is rewritten, there is nothing he can do to stay in business. And it’s a shame because his creations were some of the most wonderful I’ve seen. Not only does the law cut into his income in this down time, it cuts into the enjoyment of kids who are already suffering. And that’s just sad.