Dear Annie, We are hearing a lot in the news recently about toxic materials in toys and children’s accessories, I was wondering if we should have the same concerns about fashion and other products? –Ginette, WY
Answer: I bought what I thought was the perfect handbag recently. It was from a chi chi store in my town and since it was also designed by flight attendants I assumed it would be the perfect solution for me when I traveled. It had seven zipper pockets! I like zipper pockets in a purse, resting assured that my keys will be safe. What a nightmare! With seven of them I couldn’t find a thing. Melissa, another Care2 Green Living editor who was traveling with me that first trip with it, declared the purse would drive her insane by the time we went home.
Having spent $60 on that purse I felt I could only justify replacing it cheaply, so I went to Marshalls, having had some great purse finds there in the past. I did find a nice looking purse for $29—with just one zipper pocket—and it appeared to me to be real leather. (The seven-pocket purse was made of fabric, more eco-friendly than leather, another reason I bought it.) I looked for a tag to confirm this but there was so much stuffing in the purse I couldn’t find it. Smelling it didn’t help me to determine the material because the store itself smelled of chemicals.
On arrival home I removed all the stuffing and I saw with horror that purse was 100 percent PVC! Oh my goodness. I was horrified. What a testimony to the under-the-radar-creep of PVC, that it had pervaded the fashion accessories industries to such a degree. PVC! According to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, PVC production fuses vinyl chloride molecules with toxic metals such as lead and cadmium, which are added as plasticizers and stabilizers. Because of the chemical properties of chlorine, the by-products of PVC production tend to be far more toxic, more persistent in the environment, and more likely to build up in the food supply and the bodies of people than otherwise similar chemicals that do not contain chlorine. PVC is the only major plastic that contains chlorine, so it is unique in the hazards it creates.
At this point I sort of lost my footing, or my thinking mind. I was in a hurry for a business trip the next day and so I went to Macy’s, which was convenient, and after looking around at all the cheap PVC purses realized I needed to fork out the money for leather despite it’s eco-unfriendly use of tanning and dye chemicals. All the fabric bags I saw had PVC trim, or were ugly! But the leather purse I bought is a nice style, it will last, and it has a very well made single zipper pocket!
My lessons were two-fold. One was that PVC has invaded our lives more than I imagined and it has got to stop. The second was that the most eco-friendly choice would have been to put up with the seven-zippered purse for one more trip while I went online and found a good, sturdy, one-zippered organic fiber purse for the future.
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice has worked hard to get Target to systematically reduce PVC in infant products, children’s toys, shower curtains, packaging and fashion accessories. According to CHEJ, Target, the fifth-largest U.S. retailer with $59 billion in revenues a year, is joining a growing list of dozens of companies that are eliminating or reducing its PVC products and packaging.
Read more about CHEJ’s PVC campaign here.
Become a vinyl detective here.
Join the PVC Action network here.