What Happens to Recalled Toys?
ALEX COHEN, host:
This holiday season, many parents have done their best to make sure their kids aren't playing with toys tainted by lead paint. Over the past year, there have been more than 80 toy recalls and many of those products wound up in the trash.
But as NPR's Eve Troeh reports, that's hardly the best way to dispose of them.
EVE TROEH: At Dinosaur World, a toy store in South Pasadena, California, Joan Zovack(ph) has her 6-year-old daughter, Jessica, squint at the fine print on every toy she picks up.
Ms. JOAN ZOVACK: When you want to buy you a toy, what do you have to look for on the back?
JESSICA: Where it's made in. I like that dog. That thing, it was made in China.
TROEH: Zovack enacted a no-China policy after some of Jessica's favorite toys were recalled. Not only that, she instituted her own safety regulations. If a toy feels cheap, smells chemically, or just feels off to her, it's out.
Ms. ZOVACK: And I think in just my anger and frustration, I just said, I'm just getting rid of them. I really should have taken the time to figure out if it was recalled and taken it back and that, but I didn't.
Mr. SCOTT WILSON (Spokesperson, Consumer Product Safety Commission) We do not want consumers simply throwing the toy away. We do not want there to be secondary lead effects.
TROEH: Scott Wilson is a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He says his agency issues toy recalls, but they don't have much power over what happens after that.
Mr. WILSON: CPSC does a great job of getting dangerous products off of store shelves. Our greatest challenge has always been to get those dangerous products out of people's homes.
TROEH: Here's it's supposed to work. The company issues a recall. Parents can ship the toy back to the manufacturer for free and the company will send a refund. Then the company disposes of the toy.
But toy giant Mattel says only about 6 percent of its recalled toys are sent back. For parents who are throwing out millions of toys on their own, recalled or not, there is no corporate or federal system to deal with the waste. That falls to the local sanitation department.
Mr. NEIL GUGLIELMO (Division Manager, Household Hazardous Waste Program): A lot of paint-related materials like solvents, and a lot of aerosol cans, motor oil, computers, televisions, microwaves, those kinds of things.
TROEH: That's some of the stuff that winds up at a hazardous waste collection center in West Los Angeles. Neil Guglielmo runs the city's household hazardous waste program. He says toys belong here, too, most people just don't realize it.
Mr. GUGLIELMO: That hasn't been the focus of the message. It's been getting these - getting the items out of the hands of children, especially, but never anything about don't put this in the trash, dispose of it properly.
TROEH: He wants people to think about what happens beyond the end of the driveway on trash day.
Mr. GUGLIELMO: When these items go into our landfills, they can leech into the groundwater supply over time. So it affects not just children but all of us.
(Soundbite of dinosaur growling)
JESSICA: It's a dinosaur.
TROEH: Back at Dinosaur World, owner Dave Plenn hopes to keep toxic toys out of landfills by keeping them out of buyers' hands in the first place. So he keeps a close eye on his suppliers.
Mr. DAVE PLENN (Owner, Dinosaur World): And then I ask for some sort of documentation for a lot of the companies we are carrying, so I could feel comfortable selling the stuff.
TROEH: No toys go on the shelf until he gets proof from the supplier that they're non-toxic. Then, he posts this documentation in the store.
Mr. PLENN: And I have lead letters from I think everybody, saying, we send our own crew over there, retest and then retest and then retest to make sure these things are safe.
TROEH: But Joan Zovack and her daughter aren't taking any chances. They're avoiding toys that they may have to throw away later.
Ms. ZOVACK: It's going to be a book and movie year at our house.
TROEH: For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh.