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Regardless of the materials and products used, the environmental impact of our built environment must accord with our plans for a more sustainable world. In many applications PVC is an ideal choice. In any selection process, PVC should be assessed in the same way as any other material, based on its merits in terms of fitness for purpose (performance), life cycle cost and life cycle impacts.

The environmental performance of PVC in its major applications is as good, or better than, alternative products. In some of its applications, there are few or no readily available alternative materials offering the same or improved beneficial properties. PVC is one of the most thoroughly tested of all materials.

PVC factories don’t emit large amounts of dioxin into the environment, while PVC products don’t cause waste problems. Around 80% of PVC is used for products that last for between 15 and 100 years and this long life means PVC waste volumes are relatively low.

Studies show that PVC does not pollute soil and groundwater. PVC doesn’t degrade in landfill, so is not considered to add significantly to toxicity of leachate in landfill.

Environmental Credentials

Abundant feedstock

Over 50 % of PVC's feedstock is derived from salt, an abundantly available resource, which means that PVC consumes proportionately less non-renewable fossil fuels. Sea salt is the source of chlorine in PVC.

Relatively low energy content

Because more than half its feedstock is derived from salt, PVC has a lower feedstock energy compared with other polymers derived from hydrocarbons as well as many other common building materials. This contributes to the relatively low embodied energy in PVC products compared to other traditional plastic products.

Material efficiencies

PVC contributes to reduced material consumption in some of the core building and infrastructure applications. For example, high pressure pipes made from oriented PVC (PVC-O) pipes have up to 50% thinner walls while maintaining the same pressure compared to traditional PVC pipes or alternatives.

Thermal efficiencies

Thermal insulation increases the energy efficiency of buildings. PVC windows, doors, cladding and wall profiles help reduce the transfer of heat in all seasons. PVC window and door profiles can be fabricated for double and triple glazing making them an excellent choice in energy efficient buildings.

Design for durability

Ninety percent of PVC applications are designed for medium or long-term use. PVC is resistant to weather, chemical rotting, corrosion, shock and abrasion.

Low maintenance

Vinyl products such as flooring, wall coverings and windows require very little maintenance, presenting environmental and economical benefits. PVC windows and cladding do not require painting or varnishing, while abrasion and impact are not likely to damage PVC.

Health and safety

Importantly in the building and construction industry, PVC is lightweight and easy to install in most of its applications. These factors offer occupational safety advantages over some traditional materials. With a high resistance to impact, PVC does not splinter, rot or crack reducing the opportunities for accidental injury.

Recycling PVC

Manufacturers and consumers increasingly aim for the sustainable use of PVC through all stages of its life cycle. Representing the PVC industry, SAVA endeavors to create and participate in many community, industry and government programs, which are designed to ensure appropriate management of PVC products at the end-of-life.  PVC is recyclable and several programs to collect and recycle end-of-life PVC are already in place in South Africa.