Interesting information on PVC

Like you need any extra reading material, but I found this very interesting (even though it’s from a 1997 write-up).

“According to the Swedish Chemical Committee, PVC has no place in a sustainable society…”

Here’s a link to the full article and here’s the PVC excerpt:

The Problem with PVC
PVC is used for packaging and other short-life consumer products, furnishings and long-life goods, mostly construction material such as window frames and pipes. Short-life products, disposed of within a few years, have caused serious PVC waste problems, especially when incinerated. The average life span of the long life products is around 34 years. Long-life PVC goods produced and sold since the 1960s are now just starting to enter the waste stream. We are now only seeing the first stages of an impending PVC waste mountain.

There are currently over 150 million tonnes of long-life PVC materials in existence globally, used mostly in the construction sector, which will constitute this waste mountain in coming decades. Taking into account the ongoing growth in production, by the year 2005 this amount will double and the world will have to deal with approximately 300 million tonnes of PVC starting to enter the waste stream. The amount of PVC waste arising in industrialised countries is already expected to grow faster than PVC production. Of even more concern is the fact that the PVC industry is rapidly expanding in Latin America and Asia, so that eventually a growing waste mountain will be generated in these parts of the world.

In the late 1980s, PVC recycling was promoted by the vinyl industry in order to make PVC more acceptable to the public and to prevent government action to limit PVC production and use. As a result, the general public and decision-makers are now accepting recycling as a technical solution to the environmental problems associated with PVC. This is especially the case in countries with advanced recycling policies, like Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA.

Independent research shows that by the year 2005, it will only be possible to mechanically recycle 15-30% of PVC consumed, and at a very high cost. It is virtually impossible to separate, collect and recycle the remaining 70-85%. Thus for 70-85% of PVC waste, recycling is not even an option for the mid- to long-term. A major problem in the recycling of PVC is its high chlorine content of raw PVC – 56% of the polymer’s weight – and the high levels of hazardous additives added to the polymer to achieve the desired material quality. Additives may comprise up to 60% of a PVC product’s weight. Of all plastics, PVC uses the highest proportion of additives.
As a result, PVC requires separation from other plastics and sorting before mechanical recycling. PVC recycling is particularly problematic because of high separation and collection costs, loss of material quality after recycling, the low market price of PVC recyclate compared to virgin PVC and, therefore, the limited potential of recyclate in the existing PVC market. Feedstock recycling of PVC is hardly feasible at present, from an economic or an environmental perspective, and it is doubtful whether it will ever play a significant role in PVC waste management. The PVC industry seems to acknowledge that PVC recycling is no solution for PVC waste and it therefore is not surprising that industry is now lobbying for PVC incineration as a recovery option (for energy, hydrochloric acid and/or salt) in Western Europe and Japan and for landfilling in the USA and Australia. This forces local authorities to shoulder the burden of pollution and costs from PVC consumption.

Incineration is not a sustainable option for dealing with waste. Less energy is generated from burning the plastic than was used to make it, and incineration also means that the carbon contained within it is emitted as CO2 – a greenhouse gas. Toxic substances are also emitted, and large amounts of solid wastes are produced as slag, ash, filter residues and neutralisation salt residues. Part of this needs to be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Chart of PVC accumulation.

PVC's use continues to ride despite not being so recyclable.

Despite these concerns, PVC production is still increasing, especially in developing economies where PVC consumption is being encouraged. PVC waste is exported from the USA, Europe and Australia to developing countries, often for recycling into lower quality products such as shoes and low quality pipes, or ‘downcycling’. According to the Indonesian Environment Minister, up to 40% of the plastic waste imported into Indonesia is not recycled but directly disposed of, partly as hazardous waste. Downcycled products will eventually be dumped or burned since downcycling simply delays the inevitable need to dispose of PVC plastic waste. In light of the large volume of long-life PVC products due to become waste in the coming decades, and the projected increase in PVC production, it becomes apparent that an international PVC phase-out is urgently required. Only this will put a halt to a growing, dangerous and intractable waste problem.

 

Political frameworks for PVC phase-outs already exist. The North Sea Ministers Conference agreed in 1995 to stop environmental emissions of hazardous substances within one generation. According to the Swedish Chemical Committee, PVC has no place in a sustainable society and should be phased out for all uses by the year 2007. Denmark has proposed restrictions on the use of softeners, lead and other additives used in PVC plastic and is questioning the recycling potential claimed by the PVC industry. The Czech Republic agreed to phase-out production, imports and use of PVC packaging from 2001 onwards and Switzerland has banned PVC drinking bottles in 1991.

Thank you,
Mark.

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