How to Buy PVC-Free Gear

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is waterproof and durable, but the manufacturing process creates carcinogens

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is the most pervasive plastic on the planet. It's in your car, cell phone, and probably your camping gear. On paper, PVC sounds great: It's waterproof, durable, versatile, and cheap. But here's the harsh truth: The dioxins released when PVC is manufactured or burned are powerful carcinogens, and the phthalates that make PVC pliable can leach out; that's why you won't find baby toys made with soft PVC.

Determining if PVC is in your gear–or its packaging–is not always simple. A number 3 recycling symbol indicates PVC content, but you're not likely to find that on a raincoat label. Try shopping with your nose: PVC has a distinct "new shower curtain" smell. Or call the company's customer service line.

Manufacturers are wising up to PVC's ills, and quietly phasint it out. Kelty, Keen, Pacific Outdoor Equipment, Astral Buoyancy, and Timbuk2 have gone PVC-free. Patagonia and Timberland are close, and L.L. Bean, Adidas, and Nike are on the way. For information, visit besafenet.com/pvc.