As an organic garden owner, food and environmental safety are of utmost importance. When considering the tools you should use to maintain your garden, it can be confusing to know which are safe. And while the commonly used PVC may seem like an affordable first choice, it may not be the safest. So, is PVC safe for organic gardening?
As a whole, PVC is not safe for organic gardening as it emits chemicals and toxins that are harmful to both humans and the environment. In addition to causing potential health problems such as respiratory damage and cancer, PVC is non-recyclable and takes 15+ years to biodegrade.
In this article, we will discuss PVC and its possible effects on the health of our bodies as well as the environment. To better understand the risks of using PVC in your organic garden, we will dive into the manufacturing process of PVC and how it leads to the emission of dangerous gasses and toxins, as well as the effects of those gasses and toxins.
Read on to learn the hazards of PVC as well as some great and safe alternative plastics that will help your garden thrive.
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What is PVC?
PVC is a synthetic plastic polymer. Because of its versatility and low cost, it’s often used in:
It’s made by pyrolyzing Ethylene Dichloride to create Vinyl chloride monomers and polymerizing those monomers to create the polymer chains known as PVC.
Although PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride Polymer) is widely used, we must dive into how this polymer is made so we can understand its potential health and safety risks within these industries.
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How is PVC Made?
Simply put, PVC is made in three stages:
- Ethylene Dichloride is produced by combining Ethylelen ( which comes from natural gasses ) and chlorine ( which comes from sea salt).
- The Ethylene Dichloride is put through thermal decomposition or pyrolysis, where it is heated in an environment with no oxygen. This creates the Vinyl Chloride Monomer.
- Through a process called Polymerization, the Monomers react together, resulting in a chemical reaction that forms Polymer Chains known as Polyvinyl Chloride Polymer or PVC.
As you can see, PVC’s manufacturing process uses and releases a large variety of chemicals. This leads to an abundance of environmental and safety concerns.
Next, we will take a look at some of the ways PVC can be unsafe. You might also enjoy reading: Hydroponics Vs. Aeroponics: Which one is best for you?
Is PVC Toxic?
PVC releases toxins and gases such as:
- Phthalates which has been known to cause nausea and liver damage
- Hydrogen Chloride, which can damage your respiratory system
- Doxin, which has been shown as a cause of cancer and reproductive problems
PVC is known to emit many toxins and chemicals that can be problematic during both its use and disposal. Keep reading to learn more.
Effects of PVC On Human Saftey
PVC is believed to emit:
- Phthalates (a chemical softener that causes nausea and liver damage)
- Toxic glues
- Lead additives
According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, when exposed to heat, PVC omits Hydrogen Chloride and Doxin.
Hydrogen Chloride is a gas that is highly toxic and corrosive. This gas can permanently damage your respiratory system and burn your skin. Dioxin can cause environmental and reproductive problems as well as cancer and cause damage to the immune system.
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Environmental Effects of PVC
Dioxin is the world’s most dangerous man-made carcinogen. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, it can take up to 9-15 years for Dioxin to degrade to half of its original concentration.
Recycling PVC is almost nonexistent. While it is possible to convert PVC into other materials through Thermal Depolymerization, it is not easy. To recycle PVC on a large scale would be incredibly expensive for manufacturers because of the considerable amount of additives that are used to manufacture PVC in the first place.
When considering the damage PVC’s chemical omissions do to the environment as well as to the human body, it does not present a safe and healthy watering assistant or boundary for gardening.
If you are looking for a PVC alternative, we will discuss a few in the next section.
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What Kind of Plastic Is Safe For Gardening
Some safe alternatives for PVC in your garden are type two plastic HDPE and type four plastic LDPE. These plastics don’t transmit chemicals and are environmentally safe.
HDPE Plastic is Safe
HDPE, or High-Density Polyethylene, is a type two plastic and one of the safest types of plastic for food consumption. According to A & C Plastics, it’s heat tolerant and doesn’t transmit chemicals to food or soil. HDPE is commonly used for:
- Chemical containers
- Pipe systems
- Plastic bottles
- And toys
How is HDPE made?
The process for making HDPE is as follows:
- “Cracking” or applying intense heat to petroleum. Which creates Ethylene Gas
- The gas molecules will then attach to form polymers that produce Polyethylene.
- The Polyethylene is then combined with the Ziegler-Natta catalyst chemical that allows it to be molded into any shape.
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Advantages of HDPE
HDPE is known to be:
- Chemical resistant
LDPE, or Low-Density Polyethelene is a type four plastic, great for gardening as it does not transmit chemicals into soil or food.
Common uses for LDPE are:
- Plastic Computer Parts
How is LPDE Made?
According to Polychem USA, The manufacturing process for LDPE is as follows:
- Ethylene is heated, cooled, and compressed
- The compressed Ethylene goes into a reaction vessel where polymerization begins, and it’s turned into Polyethylene.
- The polyethylene is combined with stabilizers and antioxidants, then cooled in water.
- The water is then removed, and the material is shaped and dried.
Advantages of HDPE
Reasons HDPE is a good choice include the fact that it’s:
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As a garden owner, it’s important to be responsible and knowledgeable in terms of how your tools affect your food and environment. Although PVC is an affordable choice, it is not the best option for organic garden owners.
PVC’s chemical-heavy production, use, and discarding process have negative effects on both the human body and the environment. Alternatives such as HDPE and LDPE are safe and chemical-resistant plastics that are present in everyday items.