Following a report that vinyl PVC plastics in children’s products posed a health risk, Sears Holdings has announced that it will join other retail giants Target, WalMart and Microsoft in phasing out the plastic that’s widely used in toys and packaging.
Sears Holdings includes 3,800 Sears and KMart stores in North America. It said that in addition to phasing out PVCs, it has set a long-term goal of sourcing materials that are easier to recycle or compost.
PVC plastics cover a wide variety of products and packaging, familiar to customers as the soft, flexible material in bathtub and other toys and also the hard, clear material used in packaging — and universally cursed as the stuff that’s difficult to open.
Environmental and consumer organizations have condemned PVC for years, pointing to the toxins in chemicals blended into the plastic to make it suitable for varied uses. The presence of so many compounds in PVC formulations makes the plastic difficult to recycle, and burning it in incinerators poses health risks as contaminants are released into the atmosphere.
Last week, a Minneapolis advocacy group, Healthy Legacy, announced that 70 percent of some 1,200 toys that it and the Science and Environmental Health Network had tested showed elevated levels of lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other known toxins. Half of the tested toys were made of specially formulated PVC plastics.
The health problems come from plasticizers used in PVC plastics to make the material pliable, as in the “squirt” bathtub toys and other soft products that tots tend to chew.
Vinyl PVC is used in myriad other products, including shower curtains, car interiors, containers at fast-food restaurants, and the clingy wrap around supermarket meats. It’s also used in piping for plumbing.
Consumers accustomed to recycling plastics can identify PVC by the “3” inside the recycle symbol. It’s advised to keep the material out of the recycle bin because toxins in PVCs that are ground in the recycling process can contaminate other plastics.
Toxins in toys are much more common than suggested by media attention to lead in toys produced in China. Advocates say branded toys produced in the United States and other countries are also suspect.
There are healthy alternatives. For those wanting to be super safe in what they give children as playthings, the advisable choice is toys made of unfinished wood.