As Labor Day weekend approaches, some American children are already back in school; others will return next week. Some families purchase supplies directly from their children's schools, and others are out hunting for bargains at big box stores and online. During the school supply buying season, it's important to be aware of what some children's health advocates call "the poison plastic."
PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is a plastic that frequently comes in a soft and flexible form, which makes it appealing for use in products such as raincoats, pencil cases, and umbrellas. However, it is also a plastic that brings serious environmental consequences from the moment of its manufacture through the end of its useful life. Production of PVC results in pollution problems in the communities where PVC factories are located; this pollution is associated with a dramatic increase in the risk for several human health problems.
Flexible PVC is made using phthalates, plasticizers that tend to leach into the air around them as well as into liquids contained in PVC products. Higher exposure to phthalates has been linked to reproductive and other human health ailments. PVC is difficult to recycle, and as much as one PVC item can contaminate an entire batch of a recyclable plastic such as polyethylene.
Although many school supplies are made with PVC, there are affordable alternatives. The Campaign for Health, Environment, and Justice has published a list of school supplies commonly made of PVC and a companion list of alternative products. Some of these alternatives include ACCO recycled pressboard binders (as a substitute for vinyl three-ring binders) and Esselte clear polypropylene report covers (as a substitute for clear vinyl report covers).