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Back to School Supplies: PVC-Free Backpacks

Back to school supplies PVC-free backpacks

Who would have thought that most kids’ backpacks are laden with toxic chemicals, such as phthalates, chlorine, mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and bromine?  Who would have thought a back to school package would include toxic backpacks?  Apparently, even the US government did not think that.  In 2009, the US Congress permanently banned three types of phthalates in children’s toy and care items in amounts greater than 0.1 percent or 1000 parts per million.  Sadly, that did not protect our children from phthalates in backpacks.


In 2012, the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ) conducted a test of school supplies, including backpacks, and found that 80% of sampled back to school supplies had phthalates and 75% of the sampled items had more than 1000 parts per million. tested backpacks in 2009 and found that some of them even contained elevated levels of heavy metals.


How do these toxic chemicals end up in our kids’ backpacks?


A common material toxic backpacks are made of is PVC (aka vinyl).  Vinyl is the most toxic plastic.  Why?  In its natural state, it is not suitable for making consumer products.  Thus, toxic chemicals are added to it during its manufacture to impart qualities it does not have.  For instance, phthalates are added to vinyl to make it flexible.  Heavy metals are added to make it more durable.  The problem is that these additives are not permanently bound to the plastic, and are gradually released into the atmosphere.  Have you noticed how old plastic becomes brittle and crumbles?  That’s because the additives escaped into the environment.  In our case, they escape and end up absorbed by the skin, ingested, and inhaled. For the health impact of phthalates, see my “Phthalates Primer” post.  As for heavy metal, it is pretty much common knowledge that they should not be in our system, especially in the developing bodies of our children.  According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, exposure to heavy metals causes serious health effects, including reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and in extreme cases, death.


Sometimes, backpack descriptions boast that they are “phthalate-free.” If you see this, call the manufacturer and verify if their products are PVC-free. Often that means that backpacks are made of PVC, but that the PVC is free of phthalates. The problem is the manufacturers do not disclose what is used instead of phthalates and so we do not know if the phthalates substitutes are safe. My strong recommendation is to avoid PVC altogether. Luckily, it is not hard to do.


PVC-Free Kids’ Backpacks


Luckily, there are lots of PVC-free options. PVC-free materials include nylon, polyester, cotton, and recycled plastic. Here are some top options.


Crocodile Creek Backpacks

All backpacks are made of polyester. They are beautiful with a variety of fun colors and themes. You can buy them on Amazon or their website.


Mighty Nest Backpacks

Beatrix New York Big Kid collection is made of a combination of cotton and nylon made of recycled water bottles. They look gorgeous. You can buy them, here.  Note that unlike AmazonMighty Nest sells Beatrix New York Big Kid collection of backpacks without polyurethane coating. It is a last season collection.  Buy Beatrix New York Big Kid products on Mighty Nest.  And they are on sale right now while supply still lasts. 


Ecogear Backpacks


All their backpacks including adults and kids are PVC-free. They are made of recycled plastic, such as water bottles.  You can find the on Amazon.


Ecogear Ecozoo Kids Monkey Backpack

This is a backpack made by Ecogear. Ecogear carries a collection of backpacks made of cotton canvas. This is what I chose for my 4-year old son. He loves it his monkey backpack. You can buy it on Amazon.


The North Face 

The North Face carries a wide collection of backpacks for kids: anything from fun patterns to more simple serious ones. They are made of nylon and polyester. They are sold on Amazon.


Happy shopping!



PVC-free backpacks




16 thoughts on “Back to School Supplies: PVC-Free Backpacks”

    1. It was great meeting you too, Christie! Yes, unfortunately, backpacks are another thing to worry about. Currently, I have been looking into backpacks made of PET plastic bottles as cotton might not be always the most practical solution, especially for guys. I am looking to hear more from manufacturers on the subject of the manufacturing process. Christie, your subscription will help me out a lot. Thank you for your support!

  1. Cute backpacks! Wonderful news on all these chemicals-free! However, I still feel skeptical of ANYTHING that is produced in China. And these cute backpacks unfortunately ARE.

      1. Hi Irina, judging by your reply I assume you took offense to my comment. I apologize if you did, although that was not my intent whatsoever. I didn’t say I completely avoid products made in China. It’s probably impossible nowadays unfortunately. I simply implied that even if the company uses the best practices of avoiding the harmful chemicals, we cannot be sure that the factory in China complies with it. There are so many documentaries showing it out bluntly. It’s just politics. And that is a sole reason why I mentioned my scepticism about products manufactured in China.
        As far as the backpacks are concerned, I so far haven’t had to look for backpacks for my older son yet as his school doesn’t require carrying supplies yet (he is going to be in second grade in Waldorf School)

        1. No, not at all! No offence is taken! I do my best to avoid products made in China but I also try to preserve some sanity too. I think lots of my blog readers subscribe to this attitude. However, in my e-book “7 Days to a Healthier Kitchen” (did you have a chance to read it?), I think managed to stay away from products made in China, may be with one exception that comes to my mind right now. 🙂 Thank you, Nastia, for reading my blog. I hope you enjoy by Valenti skin care and urthware cutting boards! I am always happy to hear from you! ~Irina

  2. Thanks again, Irina, for your informative and important post! How depressing that manufacturers choose to use materials that are harmful, I just don’t get it. Looking at the well known PB backpacks that so many kids seem to have (including my own) – I see they are made from “water resistant ABS” which I found out more about here –> Thoughts on ABS? It looks like it’s an alternative to PVC (?) but I don’t fully understand all the technical info / health implications. I presume not great or you would have mentioned this option in your blog…. Article states “ABS is stable to decomposition under normal use and polymer processing conditions with exposure to carcinogens well below workplace exposure limits” – and mentions ABS is used in numerous household products, including Legos! Appreciate any further insight you can share on this material.

    1. Hi Joy: could you send me a link to backpacks you are talking about? As for ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), there are different types of plastics and their safety is judged based how durable/stable they are. In other words, if plastic is least likely to break down and leach its components, which are often toxic, it is considered a safer type of plastic. As I described in the post, PVC is not stable. ABS is made mainly by combining acrylonitrile and styrene. Acrylonitrile is a suspected carcinogen and styrene is an anticipated carcinogen. While the components are far from harmless, there is no evidence that ABS breaks down and leaches them out, unlike polystyrene plastic or PVC do, for example. So the long story short, I would try avoid it, if possible, in the future. However, if you already own one it is okay to use. Does it make sense? ~Irina

  3. Hi, The last time I went backpack shopping I was looking for lead free options. Now a few years later I read all these posts about needing a PVC free backpack (our last one was too) but I’m not reading anything about lead free. Does PVC Free = Lead Free or not? Thanks

    1. Hi, there! Thank you for asking. I know all this is SO confusing. Normally, the reason backpacks may contain lead is that lead is one of the building blocks of PVC. So if a backpack is NOT made of PVC, most likely it won’t contain lead. Some manufacturers claim that their PVC backpacks do not contain lead; however, we as consumers are not told what is used instead (maybe another heavy metal). In other words, I recommend avoiding PVC all together. PVC is also toxic to manufacture and dispose as well. Does it help? ~Irina

  4. Hi Irina,
    Can you please tell me if Patagonia backpacks are a good option for my kids? You included The North Face backpacks, and they are similar companies in many respects (not all). We own many Patagonia items and we like their philosophies, so I am wondering if their kid backpacks are a good option. Thanks!

  5. Hi, another question – I typically don’t buy Pottery Barn kids or teen backpacks and lunch boxes because they haven’t been clear about whether or not they contain harmful substances. I just sent them an email, but have you dug any deeper into the contents of the backpacks and found any answers? Thanks much!

    1. Hi, Sonia: The main thing you can do is to avoid PVC; the rest is like icing on the cake. I don’t have customer service capabilities anymore. I worked for the first three years for free. Now I answer questions like this in private consultations or membership website. Thank you for understanding. Let me know if you are interested in learning more about my services. ~Irina

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