Thanks to big companies like Mattel, this may be the last Christmas season for a lot of handmade or custom toys from small businesses.
Here’s the problem summed up in an Etsy FAQ from a woman who makes and sells puppets:
Q: So with this new law going into effect for children’s toys, does this mean your toys will no longer be suitable for children?
A: BINGO! After February 10th, 09, none of my toys will be suitable for children under the age of 12. Apparently that’s the date they all get poisoned. Research the CPSIA and write to your senator & congressman telling them that they’ll totally put me out of the business of selling children’s toys. (Dude, I just can’t afford the $3,000 to test my toys.)
So what happened? Well, after last year’s spate of killer lead toys and their subsequent recalls, the government stepped in with new legislation. Unfortunately, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that they passed says that “manufacturers must now test for lead paint, and by Feb. 10 they must test for lead and certain chemicals anywhere in products made for children 12 and under.” This means even small companies who, say, don’t even use paint (much less import products from Chinese factories), will be required to shell out large sums of money to certify their toys are safe. The Los Angeles Times has a story out today that describes the grim future some of these small companies face:
“If they don’t change the law, we’d have to close our doors,” said Nick Christensen, owner of Little Sapling Toys in Eureka, Calif. “We won’t be able to afford the testing.”
His wooden rattles and building blocks, which retail for $20 to $40, would cost at least $1,500 per model to test, he said. Because he makes 20 models, his testing bill would be at least $30,000.
Christensen, who makes everything by hand, says the only things his products contain are wood and beeswax, and he’s bitter about being forced to test them for lead.
Other manufacturers say they’ve been quoted testing prices of $24,000 for a telescope, $1,100 for a wooden wagon and $400 for cloth diapers, according to the toy alliance.
The Handmade Toy Alliance says that the law could be improved by exempting small businesses and by recognizing that certain manufacturing processes shouldn’t require lead paint testing. (For instance, if your toys aren’t painted or don’t use plastic.) If the law stays unchanged, however (and if the fees for testing don’t suddenly drop dramatically), then come this February you can expect either empty shelves in toy stores that specialize in handmade goods, or an explosion in toy “collectibles” that are labeled “not made for children.”