- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

NEW YORK — Last year’s toy recalls have sparked interest in simple toys that send environmentally friendly messages.

Robert von Goeben founded Green Toys early last year with hopes of creating popular, eco-friendly toys.

“These are classic toys that people buy all the time, just with green materials,” Mr. von Goeben said.

His San Francisco company plans to have products — which run from $19.99 to $39.99 — on store shelves this spring.

Green Toys Inc. and hundreds of other toy manufacturers are in New York this week for the annual American International Toy Fair, where buyers scout for new products.

“We’re trying to close the gap for kids,” said Mr. von Goeben, partner at Green Toys Inc. “They recycle but they don’t understand what happens” to the products.

In his case, it’s simple: milk cartons are collected from curbside bins, recycled and made into tea sets, sandbox buckets and beach shovels.

Working from the same eco-friendly message as Green Toys, Idbids LLC of Atlanta has released a series of plush dolls in the shape of clouds, flowers and raindrops. They come with a bag made of eco-friendly materials and a book detailing small ways to save the environment, such as shutting off lights when a room is unoccupied.

The package is $49.99 and scheduled to be sent to stores this summer.

Existing toy sellers of eco-friendly or American-made goods, such as Blue Orange Games — which plants two trees for every one it uses in its wooden games — or Great While Bottling Inc.’s American-made modeling clay, say interest has been up this year at the convention.

Kapla Toys, which sells wooden building blocks, has seen “a lot more interest” from buyers this year, said general partner Marjorie Israel Chayette.

Safety is “very much on the forefront of peoples’ minds and children’s minds,” she said.

Ms. Chayette said buyers are asking questions about where the wood and paint in her products are from.

“Nobody was asking those questions before,” she said.

The convention is one of the largest gatherings of toy manufacturers, buyers and retailers in the country. Safety has weighed heavily on the event, the first since a series of toys were recalled last year for containing hazardous magnets or lead paint, some of which were manufactured in China.

Many manufacturers who produce their goods in the United States have highlighted that fact in their booths. Others say they have gotten questions from buyers about where their products originate.

Toy companies say they are doing all they can to ensure safety.

The toy industry famously relies on the whims of fickle kids.

“Kids will drive the market,” said Tim Walsh, a toy expert and author of the book “Timeless Toys.” “If a toy is just unbelievably cool, they’re going to want it no matter what. Hopefully it’s going to be safe and fun and educational as well.”

But, no doubt, the safety recalls have put even more of a focus on “green” products.

“With the safety issues, it’s paramount to parents and toy makers,” he said. “It’s like steroids in baseball. It’s just an ugly time for toys right now.”

Green products are “creating a lot of buzz since more and more families want to teach their children environmental awareness at a young age,” said Sheliah Gilliland, spokeswoman for EToys.com, an online toy seller.

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