vinyl - friend or foe?
June 14, 2005 6:03 AM   Subscribe

i run an online store specializing in products made by independent designers, and i get loads of product submissions that use vinyl/PVC - handbags, purses, even furniture. i've long thought of vinyl as bad for the environment, and i've heard claims it's even unhealthy to handle. but the facts are hard to come by. now i've stumbled upon this article. so - should i rethink my assumption that vinyl is evil? from a business perspective, i sort of hope so, b/c some of the vinyl products i'm seeing are very cool...
posted by subpixel to Science & Nature (3 answers total)
It certainly seems to be a debatable issue. I don't have any advice to offer however. We all use it in some way, somewhere along the line. Greens would probably advocate that you lobby the suppliers to change from PVC to a less toxic material. We are in the green and I'm wearing green trousers so I feel compelled to side that way too.
posted by peacay at 7:56 AM on June 14, 2005

There are three issues. Vinyl/PVC manufacture involves an exceptionally toxic chemical. If released in an accident it can have a profound environmental impact. The thing I think you're wondering about as far as handling goes are the phthalate additives used mainly as plasticizers (they make vinyl flexible) - which some contend are endocrine disrupters, which may interfere with fetal development, fertility, etc. Finally, the disposal of PVC by incineration is contended by some to contribute to the production of dioxin.

Wild-eyed activists tell you phthalates are the devil!

Industry assures you phthalates are no big deal!

For your perspective... I honestly wouldn't worry about it, and I am pretty ecologically minded. The fact is that PVC is one of the most ubiquitous plastics in construction materials and automobile interiors. Phthalates are one of the most ubiquitous environmental contaminates there are. It is basically impossible not to be exposed to them. In my opinion the scientific jury is still out on their impacts, but the manufacture of consumer goods of the type you are discussing are simply not a significant component of the vinyl issue. Everyone is exposed to these things like crazy so selling someone a handbag or piece of furniture is not contributing in any significant way to the problem of exposure, if there is indeed such a problem.
posted by nanojath at 9:28 AM on June 14, 2005

Nanojath, I have to take issue with your assertion to "not worry about it." Endocrine disrupting chemicals are increasingly being noted as culprits in certain (now prevalent) cancers, notably breast cancer.
To claim the book Our Stolen Future (and by extension, the site) is a work by a group of "wild-eyed environmentalists" discredits the hard science that backs up their claims. The book (a must-read for anyone concerned about this) was authored by research scientists who discovered the impact of endocrine imitating chemicals completely accidentally - they were not looking for these outcomes in their research.
I emphatically recommend that subpixel think again about the impact of vinyl. After all, only 50 years ago, we thought radiation was "cool" (some of us remember unshielded x-ray machines in shoe stores that would let you "see" your feet!).
posted by dbmcd at 11:27 AM on June 14, 2005

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