Toy Story: Children's Merchandise Vanishes from Local Thrift Stores

Stepping into the toy section of the local Goodwill thrift store, shoppers quickly discover the shelves are empty. No longer do dolls, puzzles, games, and action figures fill their surfaces in jumbled reverie.

But far from Buzz Lightyear and Woody the Cowboy simply being off on exciting adventures, this toy story, unfortunately, has a much sadder side. It's a tale of new government regulations for lead testing on children's products. Of difficult decisions for resale shops. Of a loss of much-needed sales for thrift stores. And the absence of treasures for the children who shop them.

The Consumer Product Safety improvement Act of 2008, to go into effect February 10, 2009, (but now has a partial one-year stay of testing and certification for certain products), was designed to prevent the US sale of children's products with lead content of more than 600 parts per million. (Consumer Product Safety release: . Citizen Times article:

Thrift store and resale shops were left hanging about how this applied to them until recently, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission stated resale shops and thrift stores would be exempt from testing lead and chemical content. But those shops are still asked to avoid products likely to have high levels of lead.

In a January 30th, 2009 Pittsburgh's Tribune Review article, spokesman David Tobiczyk for Goodwill of Southwestern PA is quoted as saying, "While we are exempt from testing, we're not exempt from the ban on selling children's products that exceed the lead limit. If we don't test it, we can't sell it, if we don't know about it. People will have to throw out (children's toys and clothing)." (Tribune-Review article: )

A USAToday article on the topic indicates that testing is prohibitive for these organizations because of its cost-- as high as $400 for a small item. (USAToday article: )

While Goodwill's web site doesn't indicate that it no longer accepts toys, the Goodwill in Monroeville, PA, is not currently carrying children's items. And a Thrift Shop Romantic reader in the state of Indiana has indicated that her Goodwill Thrift Stores, too, are not stocking toys and other items for kids since the February 10 deadline.

The Saint Vincent de Paul thrift stores and Salvation Army thrift stores of the Western Pennsylvania area still do seem to be selling the children's products-- but for how long, we'll have to see.

So my suggestion for folks looking to donate these items in question is to contact your local thrift store prior to donating them, and find out whether they are accepting toys and kids' clothing and what their policies are.

I'd be happy to list that information here on the blog, for others' reference, if anyone would like to share the policies in their region.

Child safety is, of course, an important concern. Yet, the new regulations thrust resale shops, crafters of children's products, and even individuals hosting yard sales question what this wide-reaching policy means to them.

Somehow I am left with the feeling that childhood just lost a bit more of its innocence.
Stay warm, friends! And I hope you see you again soon.


RecycleCindy said...

While I know it's important to protect our children and safeguard their toys, this is very sad. Now all these cool gently-used and vintage toys will end up in landfills. This whole situation feels tragic.

SongRoarsPease said...

Actually, the enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which would have gone into effect last week, was partially delayed for a year. (This is mainly because the current requirements would pretty much singlehandedly kill Etsy and the rest of the handmade market.)

Unfortunately, the stay does not address the thrift stores, though, thus the current situation.

I am especially grieved about that, myself. My son used to love going on "Mommy errands" to the Goodwill, because he could always find something fun. I have been looking for some boardgames for him, so I was heartbroken to see the empty toy aisle on my latest trip. For now, I will keep looking at the garage sales and on Freecycle, but it really is a tremendous waste. I really hope that people are aware of this when they donate- as there are other ways to pass on these things.

And don't get me started about the whole issue with home made items! Seems like we would rather take a chance on cheap stuff from China (and look where that got us!), than to patronize handcrafters here in the US. I have small children myself, and I am pretty hyper about precautions with their toys, but this whole issue needs to be revisited and clarified. I would really hate to see a whole generation of crafters have to lose their livelyhood because of this.

JunkDrawer Kathy said...

I've been reading about how the act will impact home crafters, too. It's a real shame. I think it's safe to assume most people make their products from raw materials made and/or sold in the U.S., so wouldn't all that stuff already have been tested? This is so confusing and sounds like the ax for a lot of good resellers and the people who buy from them.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Recycle Cindy- I'm with you on that. I wonder, too, what will happen with the store "Groovy" we have near us, which is a vintage toy store--- it's their whole livelihood. This could easily run them out of business.

SongRoars- Thank you very much for that information, I've integrated it into the post to correct it. I have similar concerns about the pressure this puts on crafters, eBay sellers, and just what will happen to vintage toy collectibles. I believe in preservation, and as toys a part of our cultural history, so the idea of the possibilities makes me, frankly, a little sick.

Kathy- Hopefully in the next year they'll make those needed clarifications. I hate to think of crafters' creativity being stunted or their businesses being quashed entirely because of this.

SueLovesCherries said...

That is so sad - what will become of our beloved "finds" from thrift shops? I'd hate to see History go to the dump.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Sue- I agree. Additionally frustrating is that with the tough economy, thrifting has been such a smart solution. And in terms of kids' clothes, where they grow out of everything so quickly, the thrift stores were a real savior for families on a budget. With the need to go green, shouldn't we be reusing as much as possible?

Janelle said...

The whole thing makes me angry...I understand that we should be protecting children from questionable products, but to condemn every secondhand item to a landfill seems too extreme. My mother depended on yard sales, thrift stores and consignment shops to keep us kids clothed, and some of my most beloved toys came secondhand. In this economy, it seems crazy to a) drive small business owners and crafters out of business and b) deprive cash-strapped families of the sources they need now more than ever.

I wrote to my senator and congressman about this issue...I really hope common sense will prevail here. But this IS the government we're talking about...!

Anonymous said...

I just have never heard of a child that died from a sweater filled with lead. I don't get this. Just one more way to control. It makes me so sad. I have raised 4 children on resales and thrifts. Maybe blog land will be what helps the powers that be realize how much we shop resale.

Carrie said...

Wow, just this past Friday I was in my community thrift store, I went around a corner and saw that the entire children's section of toys and books was gone. I was puzzled about it but just thought it had been relocated somewhere else in the store that I didn't know about.
But readin this post, i guess that is their way of dealing with the testing issue.

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Janelle- I agree. How can we ensure a rational level of safety, while not restricting the sale of every individual's vintage items and crafts? How can we keep from sending our childhood's into the landfills?

Anonymous- I was raised on thrift store clothes and toys, too. I don't currently know the rate of damage directly attributed to lead and chemical poisoning, but this does all sound a bit over far-reaching to me.

Carrie-Yep. The testing is so costly, they just can't afford to take the risk. I understand their choice, but it really feels like the end of an era.

Sweet Somethings by Lois said...

Hi Jenn.
So far up here in Canada they haven't officially put a wrench in the works.....yet. I wonder if purchasers don't have to take some kind of responsibility also. If any doubt, don't let the child play with it. You wouldn't let any child suck or chew on a painted surface in the home so why would you let them chomp on painted toys? Common sense can go a long way when it gets used. As for children’s play jewelry anything metal I would not buy. Anything that is not made in Canada, USA, England, you know, all the "responsible" and regulated countries, should be bought with a huge "CAUTION" sign going off in your head. I have always felt this and could never understand the thoughtlessness of buying something from countries that don't regulate their paints, dyes etc. Better yet, regardless of where you live, buy domestic made and you know it’s regulated. Maybe if more people did this the toy companies would start moving production back to our own countries. If you do buy something secondhand get onto the Internet and find out all you can about the toy company that produces it. Most of the major toy makers have safety sites on line for you to check out their products. And most are very conscientious of keeping recall item lists updated.
For the record, I have nothing against China or any of the other countries involved. But until they start regulating as strictly as our countries do I am going to buy Canadian or USA made and, as far as toys are concerned will be extremely vigilant of what 2nd hand items, if any, that I purchase.
Unfortunately, I think the vintage and recycled stores will suffer a huge loss of income from having to pull vintage and recycled products from their shelves. It’s too bad that they couldn’t sell to responsible adults over the legal age with a disclaimer on the product saying BUYER BEWARE!

chyna said...

This is ridiculous, while I never really did trust the toys that come out of thrift stores for my child second hand clothing has always been a huge plus in our pocket books. I also fear for all the childrens clothes I have waiting to go to the thrift stores and rescues. What a waste! Since when has lead been part of clothing? I can see maybe zippers but anything that old that lead was A-OK is not likely to still be usable now anyhow. Stupid just stupid!

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Lois- I really do hope the "selling vintage toys to adults" and "buyer beware" messaging will be what eventually happens. It seems like the smartest solution. Otherwise, the waste will be astounding.

Chyna- I don't know if it involves little plastic buttons and patches and other things. I know bookbags are supposedly receiving high ratings for lead and chemicals, as well as lunchboxes. What kid who's old enough to carry a bookbag is going to suck on it enough to get lead poisoning, I don't know.

Down Comforter said...

I understand the reason for the law, but who knows what treasures are going to be lost :(

Bird said...

This seems pretty draconian, I am soooo grateful that this hasn't happened over in the UK. It's an example of well meaning but badly thought out policy that creates a whole new problem in another area - ie increased landfill and incineration instead of recycling. If the idea is to protect children it's totally missed the point. What about hand-me-downs, toys sold on ebay or at yard sales - are they going to insist on testing for those items too? if not, the whole thing as applied to charity shops is redundant. You can't make the problem of lead in toys go away until manufacturers are watched every step of the way and forced to comply with minimum safety levels, punishing charity shops is just nonsense.

jesseb's anything goes said...

Its a sad day china the leading impoter of lead products.

Anonymous said...

I am setting up a used toy rescue shelter. I want those toys! Do not throw them out!

I am collecting good toys, trashing bad, and will find a way to get them to children in foreign countries or something.

email me: