Back-to-School: How to Choose Non-Toxic School Supplies

This adorable made-in-Canada rocket lunch box is PVC-free, phthalate-free and lead safe. $30, SoYoung Mother.

The use of phthalates in consumer products, especially gear for kids, has come under scrutiny in recent years. Found in a wide range of school supplies including lunch bags and food containers, phthalates are man-made chemicals commonly used to make vinyl plastic (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) soft and flexible. According to Health Canada and organizations such as the US-based Center for Environmental Health, exposure to phthalates that contain lead can be hazardous to reproduction and may cause liver and kidney failure in young children.

[UPDATE: August, 2011] The government has introduced regulations earlier this year to limit the amount of phthalates in soft vinyl children’s products, but older soft-vinyl products may still be a concern.

So, how do you limit you child’s exposure to PVC?

• Check for “lead safe,” “lead free,” “PVC-free,” “vinyl-free” or “phthalate-free” labels.

• Store food in food-safe containers to avoid contact with the lining, if there’s no label on the lunch bag you already have. Hand washing before and after lunch will also reduce exposure.

• Call or email the manufacturer to ask what type of plastic or vinyl their product is made of.

• Look for the number “3” or the letters “V” or “PVC” underneath the universal recycling symbol on any plastic containers that come with the lunch bag.


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