Toy recalls have been hanging over this holiday season like the Grinch over Whoville.

This makes parents doubt the likes of Mattel ( MAT), Fisher Price, Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine -- names that are supposed to reassure that their children are at play in safe hands.

Things that make toys bad for kids -- lead paint, toxic plastics and irresponsible manufacturing -- are bad for the environment, too.

So it made me wonder about replacing some of the many toys on the Consumer Product Protection Commission's lengthy recall list with eco-friendly counterparts that would be good for both kids and the planet.

The trouble with eco toys in general is that they become redundant quickly. They are long on rag dolls and stuffed toys (a lot of stuffed vegetables), and on wooden blocks, cars, trains -- often unpainted -- and basic board games.

These items look well made, are creative and have a nostalgic appeal, even if you never played with such toys yourself. And unlike eco-friendly clothes, they aren't break-the-bank expensive.

But how many handmade wooden knickknacks can you put under the tree before the novelty wears off and your living room begins to look like a high-school shop class?

Thus, I hoped to at least find commercial plastic toys that are responsibly manufactured and of reliable quality. There is a middle ground between too-basic eco-toys and the cheap, commercial toys that require you to buy home lead tests and monitor the news for recall notices.

It's easier to go completely green with holiday toys if your children are small enough that basic toys such as blocks and puppets still keep them happy. It's harder to please those who are old enough to expect presents to wow with flashy colors, complex parts or lights and sounds.

It will also help if you and your kids are willing to forgo them playing with popular children's heroes. Eco toys are noticeably absent of references to Big Bird, Elmo, Curious George, Batman, Barbie and other characters whose likenesses are associated with at least one recalled toy.

Environmentally proactive Web sites such as Treehugger advise parents to eschew gadgets that require batteries or that are made from questionable plastics. Instead, they say, choose toys made from organic fabrics or sustainably harvested wood, and if they are sold through a fair trade organization, all the better. You can find companies that specialize in green toys through Co-op America's green pages.

I had some success finding environmentally responsible alternatives to some of the items recalled for lead paint or other toxins.

It would be easy to replace a $15 Curious George plush doll with a $25 Organic George puppet from the Peaceful Company. Your child is unlikely to notice that these colorful wooden stacking donut blocks, $17, don't carry the Elmo theme that their recalled plastic counterparts from Fisher Price do. A $13 set of wooden Mother Goose blocks would provide a passable if less cuddly alternative to a set of plush blocks for $10 to $13 from Baby Einstein.

When it came to filling in for a Go Diego Go! boat/squirt gun or a neon-colored Magna Battle Armor Batman, I was out of luck. Eco toys rarely feature squirting or shooting elements or futuristic day-glo weaponry.

Parenting and environmental Web sites are encouraging a flight to quality this year whereby parents buy fewer toys and focus on known higher-end brand names, such as Lego. Such toymakers often manufacture in the U.S. or Europe, are open about their quality control standards and keep a close eye on any manufacturing that happens in countries where standards are more lax.

Treehugger's bloggers are big fans of the PVC-free plastic play figures from the German company Playmobil. Greenpeace touts toys from Ikea, Lego and Japan's Bandai for their safe plastic. Meanwhile, the Mom Go Green blog has a roundup of the safety standards and manufacturing origins for some toymakers.

If you want quality toys made even closer to home, the Association of Specialty Toy Makers, which represents small toy stores and toy companies, maintains a "best-of-the-year list of toys based on feedback from store owners. The association also keeps member companies' manufacturing safety statements on file.

Some of these toys will cost more than the mass-produced items that are the stock in trade of discount stores, where many of the recalled toys have been sold. But they'll give you reasonable peace of mind, and you won't feel like a Grinch yourself for leaving the likes of Curious George and Elmo out of the holiday picture this year.

Eileen P. Gunn writes about the business of life and is the author of "Your Career Is An Extreme Sport." You can learn more about her at her Web site.

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