PVC building products have numerous energy and environmental benefits. Since the late 1980s, more than 20 life-cycle evaluations have been completed on PVC building products, many of them comparing those products to similar products made of other materials. PVC products were found to perform favorably in terms of energy efficiency, thermal-insulating value, low contribution to greenhouse gases and product durability, which means using fewer resources.
Energy Efficiency and Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions
PVC saves energy and reduces CO2 emissions. PVC takes less energy to produce than many competing products, and 20 percent less than other plastics. PVC also saves fossil fuels. Its principal raw material (nearly 60 percent) is chlorine derived from common salt. PVC building products are highly energy-efficient. For example:
- ENERGY STAR roofing membranes made of PVC reflect solar energy
- ENERGY STAR vinyl window frames conserve energy
- PVC pipe requires less energy to pump water
PVC building products are highly durable, which conserves resources. They will not rot or corrode like many other materials and do not need cleaning with harsh chemicals or frequent painting.
PVC is inherently recyclable. More than 1 billion pounds are recycled annually (mostly post-industrial), according to a recent study. Many carpet manufacturers using PVC backing have highly successful recycling programs, including C&A Floorcoverings (which has recycled over 100 million pounds of vinyl backed carpet). The Vinyl Institute recently won an award from WasteCap Wisconsin for support for recycling vinyl siding cutoffs at job sites.
In the United States, 2.3 trillion gallons of treated water are lost every year because of leaks from aging, corroded metal pipes. Because PVC pipes do not corrode and have among the lowest pipe breaks, they save precious water resources.
Life Cycle Analysis
PVC’s impacts on the environment are comparable to or lower than most alternatives. A 2004 study of environmental life-cycle analyses (LCAs) of PVC and competing building materials by the European Commission (EC) found that PVC offers environmental benefits equal to or better than those of other materials in many applications.1 The USGBC PVC Task Group reached similar conclusions in its draft report issued December 2004.
Dioxin? PVC is an extremely small source of dioxin, so small that levels in the environment would be essentially unchanged even if vinyl were not being manufactured and used every day in important products. The proof: dioxin levels in the environment have been declining for decades, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During this time, production and use of vinyl have soared. For more information about dioxin, go to www.dioxinfacts.org.
Worker Safety? OSHA statistics show that injury and illness rates amoong PVC workers are significantly less than the manufacturing average. In the 1970s, industry scientists discovered that vinyl chloride, a chemical used to make PVC, could cause angiosarcoma, a rare form of liver cancer, in workers exposed at that time to very high doses. This led to a complete overhaul of the PVC production process, which became essentially a closed loop, recycling wastes back into production and minimizing worker exposure. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued strict regulations in 1975, and there have been no documented cases of angiosarcoma among PVC production workers whose careers in the industry began after the new regulations were promulgated.
Indoor Air? Odors and “offgassing” from building products are generally due to dyes, adhesive, and additives. Many building-product manufacturers today are working to reduce use of volatile chemicals and release of odors. Resilient vinyl flooring that qualifies under the Resilient Floor Covering Institute’s FloorScore™ program can be certified to help obtain the Green Building Council’s indoor air credit under the LEED rating system. PVC-backed carpet can meet the comparable Green Label program of the Carpet & Rug Institute.