There has been some word floating around that the cheaper versions of inflatable kayaks are toxic!
This has really been bothering me, so I have done some research into the matter, in order to find the truth. Also, I wondered if some inflatable kayaks were “Greener” then others. The results are pretty compelling!
Inflatable Kayak Materials
First let’s look at the types of materials used for construction of Inflatable Kayaks. This will help us to better understand which materials are used and why they are used. Usually, it seems that the cheaper the Inflatable Kayak is, the cheaper the materials are which make up the kayak.
Inflatable kayaks are mostly made from two types of material: a woven fabric core coated in either rubber or plastic.
Synthetic rubber is more tough, durable, and expensive than plastic (PVC). It is more pliant and will roll up or fold down much more compactly than PVC will.
Rubber coated fabrics are more abrasion-resistant than PVC coated fabrics and they are more temperature resistant. It also offers good resistance to UV and solvents.
Now, what really makes it costlier than PVC is how it has to be formed. It cannot be heat welded in a machine like PVC can. It must be laboriously glued, by hand usually, which when done well increases costs.
There are many different kinds of rubbers used for Inflatable Kayaks. They offer different benefits and will overall affect the final cost of the boat.
An example of an inflatable kayak that uses synthetic rubber is the Innova Swing.
Plastic (PVC) Materials
Inexpensive recreational inflatable Kayaks are made from PVC-coated fabric. PVC is less pliant than rubber and has much less tolerance to UV and solvents.
It is a cheaper construction material for Inflatables because it can be heat welded by machines when formed.
It is harder to roll out and fold up, and can take less overall abuse than rubber. Countries like China most often use this source of production for their cheap inflatable kayaks because it lowers the production cost of the product which then allows for cheaper sales of the product.
Now that we have an understanding of what materials are used in the making of inflatable kayaks, we want to take a look into the ultimate question: Are cheap, PVC made Inflatable Kayaks toxic to us and/or the environment?
What Makes PVC Toxic?
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is one of the most common-used plastics. Many people are unaware that it’s also extremely toxic.
PVC’s production process creates a number of toxic chemicals as feedstocks (the bulk raw materials), additives or as by-products of the process.
The primary feedstock of PVC is Vinyl Chloride Monomer. Producing this material creates many potent dioxins and furans, such as TCDD (tetrachlorodibenzo-pdioxin). TCDD is one of the most harmful toxins known to science. Dioxins have been proven by the EPA to cause cancer and seriously harm both our immune and hormonal systems.
Safe disposal of PVC creates an environmental issue as well. When PVC is burned in an incinerator it again releases environmentally-harmful dioxins.
This has led Greenpeace to issue the following statement:
“The toxic chemicals released during the production, use and disposal of PVC threaten the environment and human health”
Implications for Inflatable Kayak Construction
So, what does all this mean when it comes to the inflatable kayak industry? As I see it, there are two main take-away points:
1.Bad for the Environment!
This article has shown that the production, storage and disposal of PVC plastic is really bad for the environment. Also, PVC is not biodegradable, so if it is disposed of improperly, it will be here on our Earth forever! That’s a tragic thought!
2. Bad for Long-Term Business!
It’s pretty fair to say that Chinese manufacturer’s don’t really think about long-term sustainability, or place too high a regard on the environment (you only have to look at the pollution in Beijing to understand this).
Thankfully, consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious. I’d also like to think my fellow paddlers care about these issues slightly more than the average person. As always, the problem is awareness. Some manufacturers are using other names than “PVC” to describe their product. Others are using terms like “Designed in the USA” and don’t mention it’s actually made in China…
As shown in other industries, once the level of PVC use in inflatable kayaks is highlighted, consumers should shift to greener brands.
Green Inflatable Kayak Brands
Many Americans have a natural disdain for products made in China. It’s something that not a lot of thought goes into. The truth is, a lot of the cheap inflatable kayaks that are PVC-based also come from China.
The good news is kayak manufacturers are recognizing the problem and trying to phase-out PVC. One such company is Innova, and their Swing Kayak is made from Hevealon (a teflon coated fabric) and completely PVC free.
Another inflatable kayak manufacturer that doesn’t use PVC is Gumotex from the Czech Republic. They also use Hevalon and a few different types of Nitrilon (a rubber-based plastic). Most of the mid to high-end manufacturers are also cutting down the amount of PVC that goes into their kayaks.
The Bottom Line
Spending a bit more money and buying a rubber constructed Kayak has both environmental and performance advantages. Rubber-based plastics offer increased durability, resistance, compact-ability, and an overall longer lifespan.
For me, it’s well worth paying the extra money and doing my bit to phase-out PVC.