There is a growing awareness of PVC's toxic nature, but the quest to avoid it is daunting. In order to successfully stay away from such a pervasive plastic, you need to know when “vinyl” is not PVC.
When Is “Vinyl” Not PVC?
Vinyl (#3 recycling code) is commonly used as a nickname for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It can generally be assumed that a product is made with PVC when the term “vinyl” is used to describe it. This is a red flag so before buying, the product should be investigated further.
The Healthy Building Network offers an extremely informative article on PVC. They explain that in chemistry, the term “vinyl” actually has a broader meaning, encompassing a range of different thermoplastic chemical compounds. In addition to PVC, “vinyls” may also include:
- Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA)
- Polyethylene Vinyl Acetate (PEVA) a copolymer of polyethylene and EVA
You'll often find EVA and PEVA used safely in baby teethers, waterproof bibs, reusable food storage bags, shower curtains, shock absorber in tennis shoes, padding in some shoes (like Crocs) and equipment for various sports such as ski boots, and even biomedical engineering applications as a drug delivery device used within the body.
What Makes PVC different from EVA and PEVA?
PVC is different because of the addition of chlorine. Chlorine is a major health concern associated with PVC, but it isn't the only problem. The Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability discusses the full effects PVC, and the facts are stunning:
- Due to its chlorinated makeup, the entire life cycle of vinyl is responsible for the formation of more dioxin than any other single product. Dioxin is a well-known carcinogen and can affect the reproductive, immune, endocrine and neurological systems.
- Chlorine production for PVC results in the release of over 200,000 pounds of mercury to air, water, and land each year.
- To make vinyl products flexible, controversial plasticizers known as phthalates are used, accounting for nearly 90 percent of total phthalate consumption. This translates into more than five million tons used for vinyl every year.
- Lead is often added to vinyl construction products as a stabilizer to extend its life. It is estimated that 45,000 tons of lead each year are released into the environment during its disposal by incineration.
How Do We Avoid PVC?
Take an extra minute to investigate the materials used in products before you buy. You'll need to assume that the term “vinyl” means PVC unless you've been able to verify the details with the manufacturer.