News & Insights

PVC and Sustainability 2015 – 2: Emissions

PVC production has long been under scrutiny of government, environmental and health organisations, which over the years have rightly raised concerns about the level and type of emissions from its factories. Concerns continue to be raised about potential emission of dioxins from PVC incineration, particularly from municipal waste but also from PVC production plants.

Today’s reality is that the PVC Industry in Europe is one of the world’s most highly regulated (and self-regulated) industries, and enormous efforts have been made to ensure that the industry cleans up its act, and continues to improve its environmental performance. Conversely, production in China, now the world’s biggest PVC producer, remains unregulated. So while challenges remain, European initiatives have set benchmarks for the global industry to which production in China and other manufacturing countries will have to respond.

The changing business and regulatory environment during the economic downturn from 2008 increased emphasis on resource efficiency, with the REACH chemical regulation causing a tightening of the definition of “hazardous waste”. The European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM) has long been active in its efforts to control its members’ production processes, operations and emissions into the environment. VinylPlus is the latest manifestation of their commitment to a process of continuous improvement to ensure that persistent organic compounds do not accumulate in nature and that other emissions are reduced.

The industry in Europe began to respond in an organized way to environmental concerns in the mid-1990’s. The first Industry Charter for producing PVC by the suspension (S-PVC) and emulsion (E-PVC) processes was signed as early as 1995. Its commitments cover also ethylene dichloride (EDC) and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) production with respect to emission limits for vent gasses, aqueous discharges and VCM concentrations in effluents and product. The commission of inquiry set up by the German Bundestag under the designation “Protection of Man and the Environment” had already established in 1994 that PVC is “one of the most thoroughly investigated materials”. And so it has continued.

PVC is available in a rigid, unplasticized form (uPVC) used in pipe and window frames, and this accounts for about 70% of all PVC production. The remaining 30%-ish is the ‘soft’ PVC found in wall coverings, flooring, carpet backing, and a wide range of medical products, from fluid bags to products that can be used inside the body, and this flexible PVC contains plasticisers. Plasticisers provide PVC with special properties of use similar to those of rubber. This naturally hard material becomes flexible and elastic through plasticisers. PVC products would not be used in medical procedures if they were potentially harmful. There has been a concern that ‘soft’ PVC products installed or in use emit or leach volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and this has been addressed over the last two decades through the replacement of potentially harmful cadmium and lead plasticisers, a process that will be completed during this year.

BioClad’s PVC hygienic wall cladding panels contain zero VOCs, and we will continue to uphold our production standards by meeting any new directives from ECVM and other global regulatory bodies.

Next Monday: Energy & Raw Material Consumption

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