The PVC debate
The chemistry of PVC has been understood since the end of the 19th century. The plastic was first commercially produced in Europe in the 1930s and in the past 70 years it has undergone continuous development and improvement. PVC's adaptability comes from its molecular structure. This makes possible many different blends of ingredients providing a range of properties, enabling the PVC industry to respond to the commercial and technical needs of many market sectors. This adaptability also allows the industry to respond to environmental requirements.
Like many other materials, the manufacture of PVC involves the use of potentially hazardous chemicals. Such manufacturing methods are very closely regulated.Today, PVC is probably the world’s most researched plastic/polymer. Extremely strict guidelines govern PVC manufacture and workers’ exposure.Vinyl chloride monomer (VCM)
The most significant health and safety issue in the manufacture of PVC was the exposure of plant operators to vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) in the working atmosphere.
This was found to increase the risk of angiosarcoma of the liver - a rare cancer of the blood vessels of the liver - amongst production workers exposed for long periods to high concentrations of VCM. After these problems were identified by industry in the 1970s, immediate measures were taken and occupational exposure was reduced 1,000-fold. No occurrence of ASL has been found since then for plant workers whose employment started after the changes were made. In order to help physicians in the diagnosis of ASL, a guide for histopathologists was issued by a group of leading experts, see below.
Another safety issue is the risk of dust explosion, which exists in plants handling combustible powders like plastics, coal or such like. ECVM issued guidelines how to apply relevant EU regulations:
PVC products and the additives used to give the material various properties, that is stabilisers used to help process PVC into long-life products, and plasticisers used to make flexible PVC. Substantial volume of research and over 60 years of experience, support the fact that PVC can be safely used even in the most sensitive of applications (such as medical devices). PVC is safe in use. Formulations are designed to meet all applicable regulations and standards, in particular in critical health care and food contact applications.
PVC materials or products have excellent fire performance properties due to the presence of chlorine.
- April 2001, Australia: Conclusions on some of the scientific issues concerning the use of PVC products. This study analyses the issues identified in the CSIRO’ June 1998 report. The balance of available evidence indicates that PVC in its building and construction applications has no more effect on the environment than alternatives.
- June 1999, Germany: UBA report reveals differentiated pictures depending on type of application for environmental performances of PVC applications.
- The German environment agency UBA has developed a model to anticipate substance related environmental protection in a sustainable development and eco-efficiency perspective. The model was exemplified and verified with PVC taken as an example.
PVC is one of the most recyclable of polymers but can be disposed of, if required, quite safely. Recycling as well as disposal of PVC is safe. PVC can be mechanically or feedstock recycled or handled in waste-to-energy facilities.
- PVC and waste incineration, presented at i-CIPEC conference Malaysia, July 2010.
- Good practices guide on waste plastics recycling, a guide by and for local and regional authorities, report by ACRR.
This guide seeks to bring together information from many sources to help local and regional authorities identify the practical issues associated with collecting and processing waste plastics, while identifying the approaches needed to manage and exploit these wastes in ways which best suit their individual characteristics.
- PVC Recovery Options, Concept for Environmental and Economic System Analysis, commissioned by Vinyl 2010. Authors: Johannes Kreißig, Dr. Martin Baitz, Jochen Schmid, Prof. Peter Kleine-Möllhoff (Reutlingen University) and Dr. Ivo Mersiowsky (Tu Tech Hamburg). Download executive summary.
The study gives various data on municipal incineration (MSW) and describes the methodology to calculate the total incineration costs and allocate costs to specific products. In particular, the study shows that in the average European situation, the PVC total incineration cost is similar to other high calorific waste products and represents around 2.3% of the total MSW cost.
- Behaviour of PVC products in landfilled municipal solid waste at different temperatures, September 2000.
- MSWC salt residues: Survey of technologies for treatment, August 2000.
This study highlights that its main effect is on the cost of the gas treatment attributable to PVC. It can be evaluated as a marginal cost and mainly related to the neutralisation of the chlorine content.
- Feasibility study of the salt mines storage route, Step 2, March 2000.
This study compares storage in salt mines with other options for the management of residues from Municipal Waste Incineration.
- Feasibility study of the salt mines storage route, Step 1, February 2000.
This study assesses the storage of incineration residues in salt mines.
- PVC and municipal solid waste combustion: Burden or Benefit? December 1999.