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What is PVC?

PVC - Problesms with PVCEarlier this week, I wrote about how to keep your back to school shopping eco-friendly.  One of the things I mentioned was to avoid backpacks made of PVC.  But what is PVC and why should it be avoided?

PVC, or Polyvinyl chloride, is known more commonly as vinyl.    It can be found in items from building materials to clothing to backpacks.   A lot of times products made of PVC have a distinct smell.  You can smell it in things like vinyl shower curtains.  I also feel like stores such as Target and Walmart smell like PVC all over!

The EPA has recognized that the emissions from PVC plants cause air pollution "that may reasonably be anticipated to result in an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness."

Greenpeace has been advocating a global phase-out of PVC.  They have claimed that dioxin is a byproduct of vinyl chloride manufacture and from incineration of waste PVC in domestic garbage. Dioxins are considered a serious health threat because they can remain in the environment and can travel long distances. It's been also claimed that even at low levels, dioxins have been linked to immune system suppression, reproductive disorders, endometriosis, and cancer when the general population is exposed.

In terms of using PVC for building materials, in 2007, the Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee of the US Green Building Council (USGBC)  said that "risk of dioxin emissions puts PVC consistently among the worst materials for human health impacts."  Sounds pretty grim. 

The State of California has a bill under consideration that would ban PVC in consumer packaging because of the threats to both the environment, human health, and its effect on the recycling stream.

Pretty disturbing stuff, don't you think?  And the worst part is that PVC is EVERYWHERE.   Here's a brief list of some of the things made of PVC:

- Furniture made of imitation leather, water beds, and inflatable furniture.

- Other household items, such as shower curtains, artificial Christmas trees, and Venetian blinds.

- Clothes, such as shoes, raincoats, and boots.

- Luggage and backpacks.

- Toys and baby products. Mattresses, bibs, strollers, balls, and toys.  Be super aware of the toys, because a lot of times babies will put these toys into their mouths.

Garden stuff. Hoses, patio furniture, and little pools.

- Cars.  Most car manufacturers use PVC to prevent rust in their undersealings.

- Office supplies, such as binders, folders, clipboards.

- Records, which is why they're often called vinyl!

- Medical devices, from catheters to blood bags.

- Packaging for things like shampoo, lotions, and other toiletries.

- Credit cards.

- Building materials, such as siding, insulation, pipes, cables, doors, and more.

- Electrical products, such as TVs, mostly found in cable sheathings and cables.

- Appliances, such as fridges and dishwashers.

- Flooring.  Beware of this!  A recent study concluded that a child's risk of bronchial obstruction can be related to PVC floors in their bedroom or home.  Luckily, there are alternatives to floor with PVC.  The underside of carpets can also sometimes be made with PVC.

Curious about whether or not something in your house is made with PVC?  Look for the number "3" or for the letter "V" inside or underneath the recycle symbol on a a product.   Even though these items might have the recycle symbol, you really can't recycle these products.  Lots of additives go into making PVC, so if you recycle a number 3 bottle, it can contaminate number 1 bottles.

It's really hard to get away from PVC, huh? offers alternatives to PVC products.   Good luck!