Why go to all the trouble to avoid toxic PVC (vinyl) plastic? Lead. Phthalates. VOC's. Dioxin. Just for starters. It's nothing to mess around with, especially considering that these chemicals are well-established carcinogens and endocrine disruptors that wreak havoc on growing children. We're talking about developmental damage here, as well as damage to the liver, central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems.
The bummer is that PVC (#3 recycling code) is found in an unthinkable number of everyday products and there are very few safer alternatives that really get the job done. This creates a nearly impossible task for concerned parents who would love to be able to make quick substitutions.
But as we always say: this is a journey. The idea is to start by making one change at a time.
You can make a difference right away by keeping an eye out for these common sources of soft, flexible vinyl – the most problematic because of the stabilizers (like lead and other heavy metals) and plasticizers (like phthalates) required to make it more pliable.
Inflatable toys, pools and air mattresses
We've found that almost all inflatable toys are made from PVC (usually listed as Vinyl). In fact, we didn’t find a single one made from an alternative material, as there still doesn’t seem to be a suitable substitute even after five years of searching. Some air mattress manufacturers, on the other hand, are making big strides in safer options.
Teethers, baby dolls, actions figures and “rubber duckies”
It's so disappointing to see the amount of PVC in products made specifically for young children to mouth and play with. Do you remember that addictive smell your brand new baby doll always had? That's the quintessential smell of PVC. Now that you know, you can check for problematic toys before you buy them!
Waterproof mattresses and mattress covers
Baby mattresses and covers are commonly made with vinyl. It's super important to avoid toxic plastic in this area since babies spend so much time sleeping in full contact with their mattress. You also need to watch out for those that are described as having a “membrane” because they're usually made of vinyl.
Indoor air quality is an important consideration because we spend about 90 percent of our time indoors. The EPA says that in the average home, levels of organic pollutants are two to five times higher than outdoors. Vinyl flooring can be an enormous source of off-gassing in your home. The good news is that linoleum flooring looks and feels much like vinyl, but it’s an eco-friendly choice that is durable, biodegradable and made with natural materials such as linseed oil, limestone, tree resins, natural pigments, wood flour and jute.
Shower curtains and bath mats
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) released a study a few years back, “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell,” where they revealed that PVC shower curtains can release over 100 toxic chemicals. It was shocking to learn that some of those chemicals were found in the air a full 28 days after a PVC shower curtain was unwrapped and hung!
Commercial plastic wrap
The major plastic wrap brands (Saran, Glad, etc.) are made from low density polyethylene (LDPE, #4) which is considered a safer plastic. But with a little digging, you’ll quickly find that most of the plastic wrap used by supermarkets is made from a PVC based plastic (#3), not to mention the styrofoam tray (#6) its sitting in!
Artificial Christmas trees
Until recently, artificial Christmas trees were cut from compressed polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheets. Now there’s a newer technology that allows manufacturers to create branch tips that are made from injection-molded polyethylene (PE) plastic using copies of live tree needles. It creates a more realistic look and feel, while removing worries of toxic PVC, a win-win!
Wall cling decorations
A new baby's on the way and you’re ready to decorate, but everywhere you turn, you’re met with loads of PVC wall graphics that have that overwhelming smell of off-gassing chemicals. There are loads of safer options in the world of wall clings – you just have to know what to look for!
Your typical garden hose is made from the most toxic plastic currently in existence: PVC (vinyl). HealthyStuff.org tested 21 different garden hoses and found phthalates (endocrine-disruptors), antimony and bromine (markers of flame retardants used in plastics) and lead.
Where else have you found PVC hiding in everyday products?