Just wondering where people stand on buying toys and other products made in China.
- How important is it to avoid products made in China?
- Why do you avoid products made in China – or why not?
Honestly, I’m on the fence. I do post some stuff made in China, for example water bottles. There’s apparently (from what I can find) not a single dealer of stainless steel water bottles who manufactures in the USA. According to most sites and books I’ve read, the cost to produce stainless steel bottles in the USA costs too much.
Also, while I do follow made-in-China news to a point, it’s not the biggest concern on my radar. I can’t cover everything or know everything and this is one area I let slide in order to let others fly – i.e. organics, recycling, biodegradability, sustainable paper, etc – stuff I research to death.
Still, I’ve been thinking about the China debate, so I decided to look into it.
The China-made is okay side of the debate:
Toxins aren’t just made in China: The Soft Landing, a site I trusted until they closed up shop, used to feature an interesting piece – Why Do We Sell Products Made in China. They offer up the following as to why they sell China-made products.
- The problem with product safety really has less to do with where the product is manufactured, and more to do with the company developing and producing the product.
- The U.S. has fallen asleep at the wheel in regard to our own chemical policies
- Ingredient labeling isn’t required for most products so we are forced to spend endless hours trying to extract this information from manufacturers.
- In 2004 over 1 million tons [of BPA] was produced right here in the U.S.
- Toxic product recalls happen with products made in the U.S.
The point here is that if avoiding toxins is your main concern, it’s label reading, not where you buy from that will make a difference. I agree with this point. For example Horizon milk, along with other bunk dairies are here in the USA. So are many of those lame faker “organic” body care products. Even in the USA it’s extremely hard to locate quality green products without some major dissecting.
Toys and other products can be unsafe simply by virtue of age-appropriate issues: WebMD has a good post about safe toys in general, that discusses China-made toys in part, but their bigger point is that toys aren’t safe period if they’re not made well or not age-appropriate. Again, I agree. For example, magnets are a huge hazard for little kids, and they do make toys with magnets out of China.
The USA sure isn’t doing much – so why trust them: According to a NYT piece from a couple of years back, at that time, there was just one single employee at the Consumer Product Safety Commission responsible for testing all toys in the United States suspected of being defective. WOW. I can’t say I’m shocked, but man.
Suppliers matter more than the country: China Law Blog reiterates what The Soft Landing sort of gets into above, you should know your supplier, not simply judge the country of origin making the product. Bad products can be made anywhere.
The China-made is NOT okay side of the debate:
Fair Trade and child labor issues: Many who don’t support China made products are against them because of non-Fair Trade working conditions, including child labor issues. Labor issues are indeed a big deal. But they don’t just happen in China. Poor labor conditions happen seriously everywhere. And that includes the USA. For example, did you know that the United States is the one and only industrialized nation with zero paid maternity leave? We don’t even offer living wages to everyone. Hint – before we start complaining about other places, how about we advocate for fixing local issues.
However, you can somewhat get around poor working conditions in other areas by purchasing Fair Trade Certified products and by using the Responsible Shopper guide to help you make shopping decisions. While not all products (yet) are being certified Fair Trade you can get stuff like coffee, sugar, tea, rice and more that is Fair Trade certified.
Buying products made in China increases pollution there: This is an actual problem, as it would be with any area that over manufactures. Like with all issues there’s a flip-side though. According to some reports, manufacturing in China is getting cleaner and not all products are as pollution inducing as other.
Also consider this – Americans, as a group are super hyper into buying stuff, even stuff they don’t need. Say China cracks down and says, “No more manufacturing here.” What exactly do you think will happen? Americans will find another way to get their stuff fix. We’ll manufacturer elsewhere.
The pollution issues argument is laughable to me because the real problem here is that many people won’t live more simply, won’t quit buying junk they don’t need, and won’t get over needing every new and bigger gadget that comes out. Until the typical American consumer attitude changes, I don’t see manufacturing issues cleaning up much in China or elsewhere.
The emission argument: Of all the reasons not to buy China made products, I agree with the emission argument the most. For example, if I can get something made locally here in Oregon, it surely will cut my emission footprint more than if I buy a similar product that’s been shipped all over the planet. Of course, this isn’t a China issue in total though. I love Plan Toys, but they’re not made in the USA either. MANY products aren’t made locally. Some companies are starting to offset shipping emissions which is cool, but honestly it’s just better to buy as local as possible right?
Since some products aren’t made locally, you should try to research which ones are. For example, in most states you can easily find most of the groceries you need made locally. Not all, but many. You can buy clothes and books at thrift stores instead of ordering new clothes and books from other places.
What I think:
Of course, I’m not a made-in-China expert by any means. However, my gut decision about this issue says that blaming one place is a little simplistic. I’ve reviewed plenty of USA made products that suck or that flat-out greenwash or that are seriously toxic, so I know simply buying local doesn’t solve all your eco-ethic issues.
I actually agree with a Huffington Post piece that says, “Generalizing that products from China are good or bad, safe or dangerous means nothing. To lay blame on China alone for the poor quality of its exported products is simplistic and misleading.” The piece looks at how nearly every product sold in the USA that comes from China has a USA partner or customer. When you consider products you can’t just think about where they’re made but also about who created the design and requirements for the product AND who in the USA manages and oversees the development of China made products.
Basically it all comes down to what I’m always saying – read your labels; develop your own smart green product criteria; don’t trust every review you read. Think carefully before you buy a product. Most of all consider if you actually need a product. Buying less is an excellent place to start if you want to address all the issues above.
What about you? What’s your take on buying products from China?