When it comes to big bad chemicals, few are as bad as polyvinyl chloride plastic, more commonly known as PVC or vinyl. PVC has been linked to all sorts of disastrous health situations from cancer to asthma to allergies to eczema and other chronic diseases. The manufacturing of PVC is no picnic either, as while it’s made, hazardous waste is released that can contaminate the air, land and water surrounding PVC producing factories. On top of this, Greenpeace notes that PVC manufacturing requires more toxic additives than any other plastic, including lead, chromium, cadmium, mercury, PCBs, vinyl chloride, chlorine gas and phthalates and has an exceptionally low recycling rate — mainly because PVC cannot easily be mixed with other plastics during the recycling process, as PVC releases toxic additives when melted down. Considering that recent studies show that toxic chemicals, PVC included, were found in over 5,000 children’s products, you may be worried that your children’s school supplies are a hazard. You’re right to be concerned. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) notes that independent laboratory testing found that toxic chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects are widespread in back-to-school supplies. In fact, a full 75% of all back-to-school items contained elevated levels of toxic phthalates. Products tested included items like vinyl lunchboxes, backpacks, 3-ring binders, raincoats, and rainboots. Lucky for you, there are many cost-effective school supply alternatives that are free from PVC.

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Nowadays, companies are catching on to the fact that parents don’t want PVC laden school products. You can find a slew of PVC-free backpacks in all kinds of cute designs, PVC-free lunch gear, and many other PVC-free school supplies as well. If you need some help finding specific PVC-free school supplies, CHEJ is here to help with their annual Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies. The guide covers an astounding amount of products and offers plenty of PVC-free shopping tips. The top 3 tips for parents include the following:

  1. When looking for PVC- free products, check to make sure the product is not labeled with the term, “Vinyl” as that means it’s made with PVC.
  2. If you don’t see a label stating “Vinyl” or not, check the product’s universal recycling symbol. If you see the number “3” inside it, or the letters “V” or “PVC” underneath it, you know the product is made out of PVC.
  3. If you don’t see a label of any kind, call the 800 number for the manufacturer (usually listed on the package).

Personally, what I’d suggest is that if a product has improper labeling, don’t buy it. You shouldn’t purchase products from companies who don’t care about informing consumers about materials. You can snag the full PVC-free guide below or grab this handy wallet-sized guide (pdf) to take with you when you go shopping for school supplies.

+ Get the Guide: Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies (pdf)

+ Center for Health, Environment & Justice