Jan 102009

My husband and I buy almost everything – clothing, shoes, housewares, toys, craft supplies – I mean everything – used. In fact, when I look around my kitchen and living room right now, I’m hard-pressed to find even 5 items that were purchased new in a retail store. Also, for the last 8 years, I have often supplemented our family’s income by reselling our outgrown children’s clothing and toys on eBay and in consignment stores.

Like many concerned moms, I’ve been anxiously checking the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s web site every day, hoping for clarification of requirements for the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which takes effect on February 10th.

Under the new law, children’s products with more than 600 ppm total lead cannot lawfully be sold in the United States, even if they were manufactured before that date. The total lead limit drops to 300 ppm on August 14, 2009. Domestic manufacturers and importers will be required to certify that children’s products made after February 10th meet all the new safety standards. This law applies to any products – toys, clothing, furniture – that are marketed to children ages 12 and under.

This CPSIA was passed last summer, in response to heightened concerns about dangerously high lead levels in imported toys (thanks China!), and even in some toys manufactured right here in the USA, by companies like Mattel. The new law is of great concern for owners of children’s resale stores, charitable organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army, and eBay sellers, who worry that they will be put out of business because they can’t afford $40,000 lead testing equipment.

On Wednesday, the CPSC allayed some of our fears with a press release, which states:

“Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.

The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.”

While this lifts the burden of testing from resellers, the new law will still have a significant impact on those of us who buy and sell used goods. I believe that charities and consignment stores will severely restrict the types of items they will accept, out of fear that they might unwittingly sell something that violates the new safety standards. As a result, people will be left with few options for the disposal of unwanted toys, clothing and other children’s products which are, in fact, perfectly safe.

Guess where they’ll end up? The landfill. I suspect that the government has not considered the environmental impact of this new “safety” law.

In my opinion, this is all just ridiculous. It’s a classic example of the government sticking its very long nose in places where it doesn’t belong. As a parent, I share the CPSC’s concerns about children’s safety. Of course I do. But with the economy in the toilet, many parents depend on thrift stores and garage sales to clothe their children, because new clothes are a luxury that they simply can’t afford. Used clothes are an absolute necessity if they are to meet one of the most basic needs of their children. What are these people supposed to do? Restricting the availability of used goods will simply serve to push more and more people below the poverty line, and drive the economy even further into the ground.

Furthermore, the little mom and pop stores are not the problem. The real problem is the giant toy manufacturers who are putting out dangerous products. Stop the buck there, and leave the little people alone.

My husband predicts that there will be a huge increase in goods being sold dirt cheap at garage sales, which would be great for those of us die-hard salers. Right?

Unfortunately, under the new law, anyone who sells goods that are in violation of the new law can face criminal charges, including us moms who just want to declutter our homes and make a few bucks while doing it. Oh sure, we aren’t required to test our stuff, but we’d better not get caught selling something that violates the new lead limits! It sounds like a trap to me.

I can just picture it – a mom sitting in jail because she sold a poisonous My Little Pony on a garage sale.