What’s inside your teddy bear? In Pa., that answer could soon change if the law is updated

For teddy bears and all other stuffed toys in Pennsylvania, it’s not easy being green. In fact, it’s impossible.

Under a 62-year-old law, all stuffed toys distributed and sold in this state are required to be made from new materials.

But now a state senator is looking to lift a restriction that hamstrings manufacturers and retailers in the toy business.

Mon. Devlin Robinson, R-Allegheny, along with Democratic Sens. John Kane of Delaware County and Art Haywood of Montgomery County, are proposing legislation that would allow toys to be stuffed with recycled materials.

“Many manufacturers and retailers have set sustainability goals for their products which can only be met by using recycled materials,” the senators wrote in a memo to Senate colleagues seeking their support. “Many consumers prefer to purchase items made from recycled materials to lessen their environmental footprint.”

Updating this little known law will bring Pennsylvania in line with all other global stuffed toy requirements, enabling manufacturers and retailers to make and sell stuffed toys with recycled materials in the state as they do throughout the rest of the country, the scrap states.

Pennsylvania is one of only three states — Ohio and Massachusetts are the others — that impose restrictions on the use of recyclable materials in the manufacture of stuffed toys. But the New York-based Toy Association, a trade association for the industry, regards Pennsylvania as by far having the strictest rules on when it comes stuffed toys.

Since 1961, a state law has required new materials to be used in the making of stuffed toys. Additionally, the state has a regulation requiring labels to be placed on stuffed toys that state they were made with new material.

The limited materials that can be used make life difficult for toy manufacturers because it requires them to make all stuffed toys with new material or have a separate line using only new material for toys to be sold in Pennsylvania.

“We know that fill made from recycled material can meet all safety and cleanliness standards that new, virgin material meets and is just as safe for consumers,” said Charlotte Hickcox, director of state government affairs for the Toy Association. “Further the Toy Association is not asking for safety standards to be changed, just for recycled materials to be allowed to be used.”

The Department of Labor & Industry’s Bureau of Occupational and Industrial Safety administers the stuffed toy law in Pennsylvania.

Manufacturers who intend to sell or distribute a new stuffed toy in Pennsylvania must send a sample to the department for inspection to ensure it meets the safety requirements, not only for its contents but also choking and other hazards. Toys that pass inspection are given a registration number that goes on the label of those sold in the state.

Judging by the vast collection of toys that the department accumulates over the course of a year, which are distributed through the Department of Human Services’ Holiday Wish program, this is no small task.

According to the department, it received stuffed toys for inspection last year from 1,618 US-based manufacturers/importers with 65 of them from Pennsylvania — the famed Crayola LLC, along with Curto Toy and BJ Toy Co., all in Northampton County to name a few — and an additional 829 from foreign manufacturers/importers.

Eric Kratz, executive director for the Senate Labor & Industry Committee, is familiar with the law from his years of working in the Department of Labor & Industry.

“It’s a pretty obscure law and people say ‘wait, what? We have a stuffed toy law?’ In fact, we do,” he said “Obviously in 1961, they did not particularly contemplate people using recycled materials in stuffed toys.”

But given that recycled material goes through the same extensive testing and safety review to ensure it meets all of the current industry standards that new materials do and couple that with people’s desire to be environmentally conscious, he said it may well be time to update the law as the Toy Association has requested.

Hickcox said her association would like to see this law updated by the end of this year.

“Toy association members want to be good stewards of the environment while following all state laws and regulations,” Hickcox said. “This update will allow manufacturers and retailers to ensure a global supply chain while producing safe, sustainable stuffed toys.”

Originally published