Hi Umbra!

I’ve been in denial about vinyl. Blue Vinyl, the movie, got me thinking, but unfortunately I space out and lie to myself. I even have bought those recently popular adult toys that advertise as being vinyl in large unavoidable proclamations on the front of the box and I still managed somehow to think, “It is probably a different process for toys.” After reading your article about the LPs, I realized just how bad I have been. So this is what I need: a clear list of popular items made with vinyl so that lying to myself will be much more difficult. Don’t forget anything — if you do, you can feel assured that I will purchase it with some pathetic, self-inflicted whopper fresh in my brain. Help me!

Brenna
Royal Oak, Mich.

Dearest Brenna,

The list would be long, long, long. And I don’t know how I would make it funny. Can I offer you some identification clues instead? And point you to a serious list compiled by a serious organization? Yes I can, and I will.

Shiny and kinky stinky? Yep, it’s vinyl.

Photo: iStockphoto

Readers, if you have just now joined us, “No on vinyl, and that’s final” is our guide to reducing production of polyvinyl chloride. PVC production and disposal produce dioxin, and various vinyl additives magnify the yuckiness. Read more in past columns.

First off, identify vinyl by the label: If the product is labeled “vinyl,” such as your mysterious popular adult toys, feel assured that it is made from vinyl. I have not heard of any vinyl-washing scandals. If the product says “PVC” or has the number 3 inside the recycling triangle, it is also vinyl (the number can be helpful when looking at shampoo bottles, etc., if you are willing to go that far).

If a product is not labeled, vinyl has particular applications and certain properties that can aid in educated guessing. I am going to guide you to make broad assumptions about product contents. Vinyl bigotry is both soft — for we have low expectations of the vinyl industry — and hard, due to our hard-hearted intentions of vinyl avoidance. We care not if other plastics are mistakenly shunned in our efforts to avoid unnecessary vinyl.

Identify vinyl by the smell. Anything with the new-shower-curtain smell, such as beach balls, “rubber” duckies, shower curtains themselves, and wading pools. Stuff with the distinctive odor is often shower-curtainy in texture as well: thin, rubbery plastic smooshed flat in the package, which kind of peels away from itself like American cheese.

Identify vinyl by the purpose and texture. Sadly, many handy things are made of vinyl, including wire and dishrack coatings, weather stripping, fake leather, building materials, tablecloths, and clothing. Here are some fun ways to touch and tell: The yielding plastic in which your thumbnail leaves an impression may be vinyl (that texture is found in, for instance, wire coatings, inexpensive weather stripping, and fake leather). Building materials with a fake wood grain, such as flooring and siding, that have a glossy, hard surface, are usually vinyl. Smooth, inexpensive, hard, perhaps white plastic such as one might see in outdoor furniture is often vinyl; watch for it in other hard plastic objects too, including household pipes. Plastic waterproof objects are often vinyl: picnic tablecloths with a shiny side and a fuzzy side, “rubber” boots, handbags, waterproof clothes. Window frames, window blinds, gutters, and transparent food film are usually vinyl too.

Identify vinyl by the price. I assume that all ridiculously cheap, unnecessary consumer objects made in China are vinyl.

You see from our only-partial list that in daily life “no on vinyl, and that’s final” translates into “I try to be PVC-free.” Get further details, and a longer list, at Greenpeace. Don’t forget, you can avoid hours of product perusal and angst by simply buying less plastic stuff. If possible. Many vinyl products also have non-PVC alternatives, which you will see at stores or learn of through the Greenpeace list. Best of luck with your mysterious popular adult toy.

Smooshily,
Umbra