When adults look at a backyard, they see landscaping chores. When kids look at a backyard, they see an outdoor kingdom just waiting to be explored. Getting kids outside for at least an hour a day is key to both physical and emotional health, so if you've got the room, it's important to create a place where kids feel inspired and uninhibited. Anyone can go to Wal-Mart and grab the cheapest play set off the shelf, but most playground equipment is made from non-renewable materials coated in toxic chemicals. (Just recently a Portland elementary school admitted that its playground equipment was covered in lead paint.) If you're looking to create a backyard playground, protect your kids (and the environment) by choosing equipment made by these eco-friendly companies instead.
1. Big Toys
For more than 40 years, this company has been dedicated to creating equipment for playgrounds that foster imagination, preserve the environment, and build strong communities. Milk jugs are melted down, then formed into the durable 100% post-consumer, recycled High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) planks that make up the decks, enclosures, and roofs of their play elements. Even the metal support poles used by Big Toys are fabricated US-made reclaimed metal. Overall, Big Toys has one of the highest percentages of recycled content of any playground equipment company– averaging over 70 percent.
When many of us think of a backyard playground, we envision a traditional wooden swing set. This just happens to be the specialty of Kansas-based, Backyard Discovery, only their cedar wood sets also include slides, monkey bars, rock walls and more! The company plants four saplings for each cedar tree harvested to make their play sets. They also use a water-based treatment on the wood so it’s preserved without poisoning your kiddos. They also offer the Backyard Odyssey modular series where you can design a set to fit your family’s needs and imagination.
3. Play Mart
This company bills itself as the “Leader in Recycled Plastic Playground Equipment” but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. “We are constantly analyzing the entire Life Cycle of our products, in effort to use the least amount of energy, water, labor, and most efficient reuse of industrial and consumer waste for our product inputs,” explains the website. All Play Mart equipment is made from proprietary plastic lumber (made from 100% recycled milk jug plastics) that’s manufactured on in-house extrusion lines. They’ve also implemented a Take Back Program that recycles the plastic again once equipment needs to be replaced.
This play set manufacturer is a favorite of Inhabitots. Whether you choose the architecturally-inspired Serendipity Series, the new ultra customizable Frolic Series or the budget-friendly, Play-a-Round Series, you can rest easy knowing that all are made with splinter-free, chemical-free, maintenance-free Northern White Cedar wood.
5. Play Well
This is another playground equipment company that understands true sustainability goes beyond materials. One hundred percent of the electricity used in Play-Well’s Pasadena manufacturing and sales facilities is from clean renewable energy, including solar and wind. The redwood, douglas fir and cedar lumber used to make their swing sets is sourced locally from companies that have voluntarily adopted the standards set by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Play-Well’s non-toxic play area surfacing products are made from recycled tires, and they use low VOC finish materials.
Specializing in wood swing sets, this company offers something for every budget without compromising quality. They offer fairly comprehensive information about the redwood used to make their play sets. They guarantee that their American redwood suppliers harvest less than 2 percent of their forests, and after harvest their lands are promptly replenished to ensure that new forests are regrown. Unfortunately, they do import Chinese cedar, and there’s nothing to indicate that their heavy-duty vinyl canopies are recycled.
Lead image via merille. All other images via their respective companies.