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Claire Moshenberg's picture

Back to school season is in full swing! There are lunches to pack, first day of school pictures to take, and usually some pesky last minute back to school shopping. Whether you’re just starting your shopping, or only need a few forgotten items, one way to start the school year off right is to take PVC off of your school supply list.

What is PVC? PVC is a type of vinyl that is extremely common in school supplies; it shows up in everything from lunchboxes to binders to art supplies. It’s also highly toxic. PVC contains phthalates have been linked to asthma, learning disabilities, diabetes, and other chronic health issues. Even exposures to low levels of phthalates are dangerous to kids, which is why choosing PVC free school supplies is so important: Kids touch and interact with their school supplies all day, every day. That’s countless exposures.

The Center for Health and Environmental Justice (CHEJ) just released their annual Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies, which is chock full of helpful tips on how to spot and avoid PVC and other toxic chemicals in school supplies. Here are my top 5 favorite nontoxic back to school shopping tips from the new CHEJ "Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies." (Looking for even more great tips? Click here to read CHEJ’s complete “Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies”)

Look for the Warning: Check backpacks and lunchboxes for a label that says “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” According to CHEJ, this warning means that the product is likely to contain lead.

Check for symbols: There are two easy to spot symbols on school supplies that indicate that a product has PVC in it: the three-arrow “recycling” symbol with the number 3 and the initials PVC. Avoid products that have those symbols.

Read the label: Look for a “PVC-free” label on school supplies to help you pick out PVC-free items. Avoid PVC by looking for the word “vinyl” on the labels of school supplies, especially with rain gear like rain coats and boots. Skip items made out of vinyl since they are likely to contain phthalates.

Keep it simple: Shiny, colorful plastic designs on backpacks, lunchboxes, and umbrellas often contain PVC, and may contain lead or phthalates. Stick to simple items without splashy plastic designs, and look for cloth lunchboxes and backpacks, and nylon umbrellas.

Look it up: CHEJ has a spreadsheet of PVC-free school suppliers and where to find them. Click here to check out the brands that aren’t using PVC.

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