Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Story of Stuff - Annie Leonard (Particularly PVC)

I've  been reading Annie Leonard's The Story Of Stuff.  She posits some great solutions. One of which I was unable to avoid an impromptu bout of , 'Yes, yes, yes! I want that too!'
Both the corporate structure and the surrounding regulatory system need to be changed: we should do away with limited liability and "personhood" under the Constitution (US, same in Australia), and demand an increase in corporate accountability, stronger antitrust laws and international liability, the EXTRACTION OF CORPORATIONS OUT OF THE POLITICAL PROCESS.  The capitals are mine
I first became aware of Annie a couple of years ago when I watched the 20min 'The Story of Stuff' movie.
It's well worth watching and sharing.

The last thing in her book is a sample letter on PVC she provides. It's a great resource for explaining why we need to ditch PVC (but not in a ditch).

I've added it here so that others may chose to make use of it also. It's horrific stuff and ubiquitous.  But we can do without it.We did our best to build our house without it. We failed to eliminate it totally, simply because there were no alternatives for one plumbing piece and alternatives to electrical wiring were 8 times the price and we simply couldn't afford to spend $4000 instead of $500, but it hurt to do it.

Sometimes we do as Annie mentions,, open a package or suddenly realise that we've purchased something made with or incorporating PVC, and its kick ourselves time. Here's what she does...

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 facility’s 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]


Jo said...

Linda, thanks for posting that letter, I will save it and use it. I am trying to stop using plastics around the house, reducing packaging (slowly but steadily), but especially in relation to food.
I did not know that Annie Leonard had written a book. Thanks for the heads up.

Deborah Davis said...

I am delighted to discover and explore your blog via the Sustainable Surburbia Linkup!
I am on the same wavelength and I am valiantly trying to rid my home of "stuff" so I thoroughly enjoyed your post!
I am enjoying reading your wonderful sustainable living blog posts.
I blog about healthy, green and natural living at
We have a lot of interests in common. Let's stay in touch.
All the best, Deb

Anonymous said...

Because PVC alternatives can be recycled, there are more sustainable. This results to saving the environment and a host of other benefits. In the present day world, there is growing concern that our environment is being depleted because of increasing levels of greenhouse gases.
• The good news for those who are conscious about the state of the environment is that some companies such as Keller Products make use of post-industrial recycled Polycarbonate plastic to make plastic tubes. This course of action eliminates the need to manufacture products from scratch leading to saving of energy that directly conserves the environment.
ABS- another PVC alternative
ABS is a low cost pvc alternatives. It is made up of three materials therefore has amazing rigidity and impact strength. Other characteristics of ABS include great colorability and light weight nature.
• Professionals at Keller Products usually use ABS profiles for some customer applications.
The need to create a PVC free world has led to the rise of PVC alternatives. It is possible to find a low cost replacement for polyvinyl chloride that has good features.

KQ said...

I felt inspired to come back and comment to say that I read Annie Leonard's book after I saw your post.

It was fantastic, the PVC and aluminium stories were especially enlightening. I still feel a bit of grief for my love of viny records but that's another tangent...

It is a fantastic little wake up call to things like extended producer responsibility. I could happily reread it every six months for the consciousness that it brings to my attitude to what we consume on a daily basis.