Last Updated on June 3, 2022 by The Filtery Staff
When I was little, I played with a beach ball, water guns, pool noodles, a bucket and sand shovel, and various other toys when we went to the beach or when I played in my sandbox or by the pool… Needless to say, that’s a lot of plastic!
Now that I have kids of my own (and since we live a more eco-friendly lifestyle), I try to choose toys that are more non-toxic, sustainable, and ultimately have less plastic. Unfortunately, (as I’m sure you know), that’s often a lot easier said than done when it comes to toys… And even more so when it comes to water toys.
There isn’t always a 100% perfect toy option for the little ones when it comes to outdoor play. But some options are definitely better than others, which is what this article is about.
So if you, like me, are trying to find more non-toxic and eco-friendly toys for your kids this summer, I’ve rounded up my recommendations for the best non-toxic pool, sandbox, and beach toys for kids right here.
P.S. If you’re interested in some more guide to non-toxic summer fun, you might want to check these out:
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our standards.
What Makes Some Toys Toxic or Unsafe?
In recent decades, there have been various studies looking at chemicals of concern in kids’ toys. For example, a 2021 study published in the Environment International identified 126 substances that are cause for concern.
Some of the toxins we’re talking about include:
- Endocrine disruptors (like BPA and phthalates)
- Carcinogens (like vinyl chloride that’s used to make PVC plastic)
- Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs (like formaldehyde in glue and lead paint)
You may think that low-level exposure isn’t a cause for concern, but considering the fact that these chemicals are everywhere in our world these days, it can add up. Kids generally have many (toxic) toys they play with, and over time, all of these chemicals interact with each other and accumulate within the child’s system, with the potential to cause or exacerbate short- or long-term health issues.
Not only are children more vulnerable to the potential negative effects of toxins in their environment, but also, as every parent knows, kids love to put toys in their mouths! As they suck and chew on them, their levels of exposure are increased.
As such, parents are especially concerned about their babies and toddlers. These age groups are at a higher risk when playing with unsafe toys because they are more sensitive to chemical exposure—their metabolic rates are faster, their organs and tissues are growing, and they have a higher surface area to body weight ratio.
Toxic Materials in Pool, Beach, & Sand Toys
Identifying which toys are toxin-free (or at least almost toxin-free) isn’t always easy. Toys don’t come with the same kind of labeling requirements that food does, so you don’t always know exactly what’s in them.
Here are some of the materials that make toys unsafe for kids:
- Lead, cadmium, and other metals
- BPA, BPS, and other bisphenols
- Flame retardants (though this is not as common anymore since recent regulations have begun outlawing flame retardants in kids’ products)
These ingredients are used in toys for various reasons, including:
- Softeners or plasticizers to increase or decrease plasticity
- Surface-active substances to create a specific kind of foam
The Sustainability Aspect
Apart from the effect on children, beach toys, pool toys, and sandbox toys don’t last forever. When they are chipped or cracked, the toys almost always end up in landfills. One toy can take at least 450 years to more than 1,000 years to degrade… If they biodegrade at all! That means these toys just pollute ecosystems around the planet.
According to World Counts, over 3.7 million tons of plastic have been dumped into the oceans. Of course, a percentage of this statistic includes toys that are dumped in the sea (or end up there on accident), where they leak harmful compounds into the water and disrupt aquatic life and ecosystems.
What To Look for in Non-Toxic Beach Toys for Kids
The safer toy materials you want to look for instead are things like:
- Food grade silicone
- Natural rubber
- “Better” plastics like ABS
- Solid, unfinished wood (and/or wood that’s been treated with beeswax or natural oils)
- Mineral pigments
- Plant-based colorants
There are also toys that fall in a kind of middle ground – they aren’t 100% safe, but they are safer than most other toxic options. Plastic toys made from ABS or polypropylene fall into this middle ground but these ingredients still need to be proven safe.
This is an area where you may end up having to choose the “better” option, even if it’s not the perfect one.
Of course, you’ll want to look for eco-friendly beach toys that also meet US and EU safety standards, too. Be sure that the recommended age on the toys match that of your child and stay away from potential choking hazards.
The 8 Best Brands for Eco-Friendly & Non-Toxic Toys for the Beach, Pool, & Sandbox
So what are the best environmentally friendly beach toys, non-toxic sand toys, and green pool toys you can buy for your little ones with the peace of mind that they are safe?
Here are our favorite toys your children can play with in sand and water:
Liewood is a super cute kids’ brand that carries a collection of summer toys made from (mostly) 100% silicone.
They carry sets that include a bucket, shovel, and sand molds, or you can mix and match by purchasing the bucket and shovel/rake set separately. They also carry things like sand sieves, natural rubber bouncy balls, and silicone boats. Oh, and how cute is this Nature Exploration set, which comes with magnifying glasses!? Their toys come in several different beautiful colors, too.
Green Toys carries different kinds of sustainable toys, including several that are great for the beach, sandbox, pool, or bath!
Their toys are made locally in the USA from 100% recycled milk jugs. Although products made from recycled materials can be problematic at times because they contain unknown amounts of phthalates and other materials, Green Toys’ products are actually phthalate-free, PVC-free, and BPA-free.
Although Colored Organics is focused on organic apparel for kids, they have a pretty good toy collection, too!
They have a couple of different kinds of stackable nesting cups, which are great for building towers at the sandbox or beach. They have a cute set of boats for the pool or bath. And they carry this Beach Craft Set from Eco-Kids, too.
Depending on which specific product you’re looking at, you’ll find materials like food-grade silicone and wheat straw. It’s all BPA and lead-free, and the stacking cups are also completely free of PVC, latex, and phthalates.
How cute are these fins!? These kids’ flippers are made out of 100% natural rubber, which means they’re plastic-free.
The heel tab and open toe design make it easy for your child to put these flippers off and on. The foot pockets are flexible and soft, too, so your child can play comfortably when you hang out at the beach.
In addition to these natural rubber fins, Minnow also carries a few other “better” options for water toys. Their kids’ swim goggles, for example, are made out of 20% silicone, 20% PVC, 20% PU, 40% PC… Not ideal, but still better than most of the 100% plastic options out there. Similarly, they also have a pool ring made from 50% cotton and 50% PVC. Again, not a perfect option, but considering the fact that non-PVC pool toys are practically impossible to find, it’s at least a better option.
These beach toys from Spielstabil are not plastic-free, but they are made from ABS plastic, which does not have any BPA, lead, PVC, or phthalates. Plus, they’re actually welded together so you don’t have to worry about any toxic glues.
They’re also incredibly durable and colorfast—they even come with a 10-year warranty. They have buckets, shovels, sieves, rakes, and even little ice cream scoops and cones to make pretend sweet treats in the sand.
Ekobo’s sand bucket and set of three sand-scooping tools are ideal for building sandcastles at the beach or in a sandbox. The bucket is inspired by the shape of a bird, the large scoop is a whale, the sieve is a turtle, and the shovel is a manta ray—so cute.
These toys are free from BPA, phthalates, PVC, and latex. They’re made from eco-friendly bamboo covered in melamine. Although melamine is not the perfect option, it helps to extend the life of the toys and prevent things like mold growth for toys that are in contact with water all the time. And it’s definitely a better option than 100% petroleum-based toys that may contain unknown phthalates and more.
When it comes to floaties, the options are really slim. Almost all pool floats and floaties are made using PVC. You can find PVC-free pool noodles that are made out of polyethylene foam instead, which are a little bit better of an option.
Another better (though still imperfect) option is Kai’s collection of pool noodles and floats. These are made primarily out of Sunbrella fabric, which we did a full breakdown of right here. Sunbrella definitely has its pros and cons. It’s very durable and UV-resistant, which is why it’s used for so many outdoor products. Even though it’s made from synthetic, it does come with GREENGUARD and OEKO-TEX labels, which do indicate a certain level of safety with regard to the materials and additives used.
The main concern with Sunbrella is the PFAS added. They do have a line of PFAS-free fabric, but as far as we can tell, the Kai collection is not made from PFAS-free material, unfortunately.
Plantoys’ sand and water toys are sustainably made in Thailand using natural rubberwood, formaldehyde-free glue, organic pigments, and water-based dyes. They carry super cute sand sets for digging and building, as well as several different kinds of boat toys for the pool or bathtub!
The next time you hit the beach, skip the plastic toys and opt for better alternatives like silicone or natural rubber. Although it can be difficult to find a perfect option, the brands listed above are some of the best options for eco-friendly beach toys currently on the market.
Enjoy the sun!
Written by Denine W.