Just this past week the European Union implemented stricter testing requirements for toys imported into Europe. The requirements were actually drawn up in 2009 but they just came into effect this week. The requirements, known under the rubric 2009/48/EC Toy Safety Directive, aim to tighten the monitoring of the chemical and material content in toys as well as the design of some mechicanical and electronic toys. Carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and lead are big targets of the new directive. Arsenic, you might be surprised to learn, is found in a lot of toys but under the new directive the tolerance is much lower. Before the new directive 0.25 micrograms was the tolerance. Under the new directive any toy which shows more than 0.9 micrograms of arsenic will be banned.
The new regulations will be a big challenge for toy makers in China. In a Greenpeace study in 2011 it was found that about 30 % of toys purchased in five major Chinese cities contained excessive amounts of heavy metals. And in a more recent survey to determine the impact of 2998/48/EC on Chinese toy makers it was found that about 80% of toys sampled in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, failed to meet the new regulations. In other words, Chinese toy makers will have a lot of work to do to get into compliance with the new regulations. But they will have to do it or find that they will lose their second largest export market, the EU.
The Chinese government recognizing what is at stake here is organizing training sessions to help exporters get into compliance with the directive. The major testing labs in China, e.g. Intertex, SGS, BV are also working with manufacturers to help them understand, and pass, the new regulations. From my experience the difficult task will be for Chinese toy makers to qualify their subcontractors because so many raw materials are imported into China from overseas these days. It will be interesting to watch.
Still I think 2009/48/EC is good news for China and for importers. It is an opportunity for Chinese manufacturers to produce product in accordance with the strictest global standards and enhance their own reputations. And importers who source in China will also be assured that the products they are passing on to their customers are as safe as any in the world.
Finally, a good tip is this. Even if you are not importing into Europe, ask your prospective vendor if they are compliant with the new directive. If they are that tells you right there that this may be a vendor you want to work with.