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 vinyl, is an ideal choice. In any selection process, vinyl 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 vinyl 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. vinyl is one of the most thoroughly tested of all materials. vinyl factories don't emit large amounts of dioxin into the environment, while vinyl products don't cause waste problems. Around 80% of vinyl is used for products that last for between 15 and 100 years and this long life means vinyl waste volumes are relatively low. Studies show that vinyl does not pollute soil and groundwater. vinyl doesn't degrade in landfill, so is not considered to add significantly to toxicity of leachate in landfill.
Over 50% of vinyl's feedstock is derived from salt, an abundantly available resource, which means that vinyl consumes proportionately less non-renewable fossil fuels. Sea salt is the source of chlorine in vinyl.
Vinyl 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 vinyl products compared to other traditional plastic products.
Vinyl contributes to reduced material consumption in some of the core building and infrastructure applications. For example, high pressure pipes made from oriented vinyl (PVC-O) pipes have up to 50%
thinner walls while maintaining the same pressure compared to traditional vinyl pipes or alternatives.
Vinyl windows, doors, cladding and wall profiles help reduce the transfer of heat, making them an excellent choice in energy efficient buildings.
90% of vinyl applications are designed for medium or long-term use. Vinyl is resistant to weather, chemical rotting, corrosion, shock and abrasion.
Vinyl products such as flooring, wall coverings and windows require very little maintenance, presenting environmental and economical benefits. They do not require painting or varnishing, while abrasion and impact are not likely to damage vinyl.
Importantly in the building and construction industry, vinyl 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, vinyl does not splinter, rot or crack reducing the opportunities for accidental injury.
Manufacturers and consumers increasingly aim for the sustainable use of vinyl through all stages of its life cycle. Representing the vinyl industry, SAVA endeavors to create and participate in many community, industry and government programs, which are designed to ensure appropriate management of vinyl products at the end-of-life. Vinyl is recyclable and several programs to collect and recycle end-of-life vinyl are already in place in South Africa.