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Plentiful Plastic

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Soft drink bottles, window blinds, and children's toys. These, and many other products, are all made from plastic. The second most widely used plastic in the world is polyvinyl chloride or PVC.

Soft drink bottles, window blinds, and children's toys. These, and many other products, are all made from plastic.

The second most widely used plastic in the world is polyvinyl chloride or PVC. There are over 150 million tons of long-life PVC materials in existence globally and more are being manufactured every day. It is used in construction, packaging, medical products, appliances, cars, toys, clothing, and more. PVC is considered the most harmful plastic to the environment and, as studies reveal, also poses human health risks.

Toxic Ingredients

The PVC production is one of the most toxic industries in the world. PVC is comprised of many chemicals, including chlorine. While other products made with industrial chlorine have been banned or phased out (PCBs and CFCs), PVC production is increasing, particularly in Asia and Latin America. More than 30 percent of the world's chlorine production is used to make PVC. Additives to PVC include plasticizers called phthalates, which make the plastic soft and pliable. The most common phthalate is diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), an animal carcinogen. Plasticizers are not bound to the plastic and can leach out. Other additives include heavy metals, used as stabilizers or to add colour, and fungicides.

Human Health

DEHP, when used in medical tubing, has been found to accumulate in blood, lung and liver tissue, and fat. Liver and breast cancer have been linked to PVC among workers who manufacture it. What is most disturbing is that PVC is used to make children's toys, especially those that infants chew and suck on. Since phthalates are not bound to plastic, there is a risk of chemicals leaking into infants' mouths. In Europe, phthalate additives in PVC toys for children under the age of three have been banned and many US toy manufacturers are eliminating these plasticizers.

Environmental Nightmare

The disposal of PVC creates serious environmental problems. There are three ways to dispose of it: recycling, incineration, and burial. PVC is difficult to recycle, as its production requires virgin PVC to make a product of similar quality. Many recycled PVC products have to be restabilized with toxic heavy metals. This results in secondary products with hazardous components.

Incineration releases greenhouse gases and harmful dioxins in the air. The most lethal form of the dioxin family is TCDD, a known human carcinogen and hormone disrupter. Until a worldwide ban was imposed in 1991, PVC tar wastes were burned on ocean incineration vessels.

Lastly, burial of PVC is risky because its toxic components can leach into the soil and groundwater. The average lifespan of durable PVC products is about 34 years.

Consumer Choices

The good news is that there are many alternatives to PVC.

The Greenpeace website (greenpeace.org) has an extensive list of PVC-free products and PVC alternatives. As consumers, we can choose healthier, safer products, for ourselves and for our earth. In the long run, it'll be worth it.

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