The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health—and a Vision for Change - Annie Leonard (2010)

APPENDIX 3. SAMPLE LETTER TO PVC RETAILERS, MANUFACTURERS, AND LOBBYISTS

Image

Even with the best of intentions, I find that PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic still sneaks its way into my house occasionally. Whether it is in kids’ toys received as gifts from well-meaning relatives to that horrible child-sized Barbie pink raincoat that was left at our home to products in which I didn’t recognize the PVC until I opened the package and smelled that telltale smell, there it is. Sometimes PVC is in the product and sometimes it is the packaging. The problem with PVC is that once we have it, we’re stuck. We can’t give it to a thrift store, where someone who may be unaware of its hazards would bring it home, potentially exposing her family. We can’t throw it away, since PVC releases toxics when landfilled or, worse, incinerated. So what to do? I stick this junk in an envelope or box and send it back to the retailer, the producer, or, in cases in which I can’t identify either, the Vinyl Institute, which is the PVC industry’s lobby group in Washington, D.C., along with an explanation and a request to stop selling, making, and advocating for the poison plastic. If I am returning a product I purchased, I always ask for a refund and donate the money to an organization working to ban PVC. If you want more information on identifying PVC in consumer products and joining campaigns to get rid of this poison plastic, please visit www.besafenet.com/pvc.

Here’s a letter that you’re welcome to adapt for your own use. Share it with friends. Perhaps if stores get enough of this back in the mail, they’ll join the many retailers and producers who have agreed to stop using and selling PVC.

The Vinyl Institute’s address is: Vinyl Institute, 1737 King Street, Suite 390, Alexandria, VA, 22314 USA.

Dear [Producer, Store, Vinyl Institute],

Enclosed is a [raincoat, handbag, rubber duck, binder, shower curtain, etc.] that I am returning to you because it contains polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. PVC does not contribute to a healthy household or a healthy planet. In fact, PVC is the most hazardous plastic at all stages of its lifecycle, from production through use and disposal. I encourage you to stop [making/selling/promoting] PVC and to instead opt for materials that are safer for workers, communities, consumers, and the planet.

Production: PVC production is especially hazardous for workers and communities where plants are located. PVC production requires vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), a dangerous explosive, and creates toxic waste, notably ethylene dichloride (EDC) tars—two things no neighborhood wants. Wastes from PVC production have been proven to contain the powerful carcinogen dioxin, which then is spread to wherever the waste is buried or burned. In addition to the inherent hazards of PVC, its production requires even more toxic chemical additives to prepare the PVC for different uses: plasticizers (such as phthalates) are added to make it soft and pliable, heavy metals (such as lead and cadmium) are added as stabilizers, and fungicides are added to stop fungi from eating the other additives.

Use: The chemical additives added to PVC are not bound to the plastic so they leach out or evaporate over time. That is why PVC items often reek of a “new car smell” and lead dust has been often found on PVC window frames and mini-blinds. The most common plasticizer used in PVC is DEHP, a suspected carcinogen and endocrine disruptor that is now showing up in human and wildlife bodies tested all over the planet. If we bring this Stuff into our homes, schools, and workplaces, we end up with these toxics in our bodies.

Disposal: Whenever PVC is burned, dioxins and acidic gases are released. This happens when discarded PVC ends up in an open burn pile or a waste incinerator. It also happens when buildings catch on fire, since PVC is widely used in building materials. When PVC is dumped in a landfill, the additives leach into the environment, and it is also at risk of burning since landfill fires are common.

PVC recycling is not a solution. PVC recycling is technically difficult, not economically feasible, and polluting, releasing a range of toxics into the air. Even more basic, though, recycling a hazard perpetuates a hazard. Faced with such a uniquely hazardous material, a better response is to reduce its circulation rather than to figure out how to use it yet again.

The good news about PVC is that it isn’t necessary. Alternative materials are available, including many safer materials that PVC has displaced over recent years: glass, cotton, metal, paper, ceramics, leather, and wood as well as less hazardous plastics. Many companies around the world, including Nike, IKEA, Sony, the Body Shop, a dozen automobile makers, and even Wal-Mart, have taken steps to reduce or fully eliminate PVC in their products.

Knowing how hazardous PVC is, and knowing that alternatives exist, why are you continuing to [use/sell/promote] this material? If all those companies can take a stand on the side of community, worker, and environmental health, you can too.

Please write back to me to clarify [company name here]’s position regarding PVC. Specifically, I would like to know if you have a plan, with a timetable, to phase out PVC from your operations.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
[Your name here]