By Paul McRandle
Whether you have children of your own or know someone who does, selecting toys for kids can be an anxious experience: Will the child like it? Will the parent like it? How soon will it find its way to the land of discarded toys? Naturally, a new business had to step in to address this anxiety: Rent-a-Toy. Not having to purchase, care for or dispose of toys certainly makes as much sense as it does for cars, tools or computers. Maybe even more, given how fickle both children and parents can be (at a recent birthday party, I watched a mother pick out those toys that could live in her house and those she wanted to toss).
Qualms about cleanliness will likely compete with safety worries in the minds of most parents, as they should. The toy recalls of the last two years haven’t left anyone complacent. Rent-a-Toy claims to select toys based on the safety reviews of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Toy Research Institute, Safe Kids Worldwide, Playthings, National Parenting Center and the International Parenting Institute. For their part, Rent-a-Toy tests and inspects for bacteria, heavy metals, chlorine, phthalates and loose magnetic parts. When returned, toys are cleaned, sanitized and tested for usability before being sent out again.
We compared their list of offerings with that at HealthyToys.org (which features test results for toxic substances in 1,500 toys) and were happy with the results. A Melissa & Doug Sound Puzzle, which received a "High" toxic rating due to carcinogenic cadmium, showed up on a search but was listed as unavailable. Curious if that meant the puzzle was out of stock or was being removed, we contacted the company. A representative explained that the puzzle would remain unavailable while it is being evaluated, since a child could become exposed to the cadmium should the toy be set on fire.
From a green parent’s perspective, Rent-a-Toy gains a plus for including an "Eco-friendly" category, which consists mostly of Plan products, nearly all of which rated well at HealthyToys.org. They also offer musical instruments, learning toys, electronics and toys in many other categories, and you can browse for items by your child’s age or by brand. Furthermore, the toys arrive in recyclable PET plastic bags in a box with a pre-paid return-shipping label, which reduces packaging. Rent-a-Toy offers monthly plans ranging from two toys at a time ($24.99) up to eight at a time ($64.99), with contract lengths varying from three to twelve months. So if you’re at a loss on what get a niece or nephew this year and can’t confront the shopping aisles, Rent-a-Toy will take off the pressure.
For more on selecting the safest toys, see "Toxic-Free Toy Shopping."