In 2014, VinylPlus agreed proposals to launch a sustainability label scheme for PVC hygienic wall cladding products, with criteria including responsible sourcing and product traceability.
Although the main focus has been on European producers, VinylPlus has also made presentations across the world, both to disseminate knowledge and to encourage similar schemes in different countries. The regulations across the world for PVC production do not match the stringent European regulations and there is also little self-regulation in many of the main producing countries.
The worldwide growth of the PVC consumption amounts to approximately 4 to 5% per year. PVC is in the top three of the world’s most widely produced plastics, with production reaching 38.5 million tonnes in 2013, up 4 million tonnes on the previous year. Asia Pacific countries contributed over 21.6 million tonnes, while the combined production of North America and Europe was 13.6 million tonnes.
VinylPlus is committed to taking the sustainability arguments to the currently unregulated industry in China, which manufactures about one third of all PVC. The main environmental arguments and historic concerns are well known. On the positive side, PVC construction products are cost-effective, lightweight, versatile and durable, and have a long life cycle. Lifecycle analyses and independent studies have demonstrated that PVC’s environmental impact is favourable when compared with other manufactured materials used for construction. It is comparatively low in its energy and resource use during production, as well as in conversion to finished products.
To take one comparative example, treated timber has recently become a more expensive material than PVC and from an environmental perspective, because timber distribution channels are longer and more fragmented, traceability is often not possible. PVC as a finished product has no need for preservative coatings like stains or paints, some of which are toxic, with many such treatments needing to be repeated during the life of the product.
Many of the traditional environmental concerns have already been addressed by the European industry over the past decade or more. For example, the release of toxins either through burning PVC or from emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from installed PVC products, has been addressed with the substitution of cadmium and lead plasticisers and that programme concludes during 2015.
Rigid PVC is recyclable, and in our own industry several schemes and initiatives have been developed to encourage collection, re-use, and recycling. Bioclad’s BioBin project facilitates regional collection centres around the UK where our installers can deliver spent PVC products for distribution and reprocessing into other products.
Nobody within the industry is suggesting that manufacturers of PVC products do not still face challenges, and VinylPlus recognise that replicating their achievements in other parts of the world is probably not going to be a short process. However, increased worldwide regulation of the materials used in construction and increasingly competitive forces within the industry will play their part in making the industry outside Europe fall into line.
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