EVERYTHING ABOUT PVC FROM MANUFACTURING TO RECYCLING
PVC from A to Z
PVC – WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
For more than 50 years, PVC has been very successful throughout the world. Today, this
versatile material is one of the most important plastic materials recognised internationally
and proven on the market.
PVC has distinguished itself especially with its wide range of
applications. PVC products are often cost-effective in terms of
purchasing and maintenance. At the same time, they contribute
more and more to sustainable development throughout their
entire life cycle: this occurs by means of state-of-the-art manufacturing
and production methods, the responsible use of energy
and resources, cost-effective manufacturing and processing,
as well as numerous recovery possibilities. This progress has
led to a continuous increase in the demand for this plastic
material. Moreover, through cost-effective PVC products, society
saves money which can be spent on sound ecological and
Processing in Europe
PVC processing1 in Europe is at 4.9 million tonnes per year.
Thus, PVC is one of the most important plastic materials after
the polyolefins polypropylene and polyethylene, which have a
50% of the market share. The outstanding importance of PVC
is documented in the chart on the right.
Worldwide, PVC is in a class of its own. Vinyl is in third place
among distributed plastic materials. All predictions point towards
the continued growth of plastic materials2 as well as of
PVC processing has increased comparatively slower in Europe.
A high degree of market penetration has already been achieved
in this sector. Nevertheless, growth has been registered even at
this high level: this is an indication of the major importance of
this high-performance plastic material.
Large Manufacturers supply the Market
The concentration of suppliers varies according to continent.
In China, a large number of small suppliers dominate. In North
America, on the other hand, five major manufacturers control
88% of the market. In Western Europe, the five largest providers
supply 64% of PVC. Taking into consideration the capacities of
the largest manufacturers worldwide in 2009, Shin-Etsu is at
the top, followed by Formosa Plastics, Solvay, and LG Chemicals.
In terms of PVC specialities for paste processing, the situation
is somewhat different. Here, the Europeans claim the top three
positions,3 held by Vinnolit, Vestolit, and Solvay/SolVin.
Processing shaped by Medium-Sized Companies
The PVC-processing industry in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland
is extremely efficient and predominantly characterised
by medium-sized businesses. It is very export oriented – just
like the plastics manufacturing industry. Several of these PVC
processors lead the worldwide market with their products. In
particular, these products consist of window profiles and rigid
PVC is one of the most important plastic materials in Europe and is in a class of its own
worldwide. The PVC industry has achieved enormous economic importance through its
extremely wide range of high-quality products. The prognosis shows continued growth.
Distribution of the plastics market
in the EU 27+2 for 2009 in percentage
MANUFACTURING AND RAW MATERIALS
The European PVC industry has consistently improved its manufacturing processes in recent
years. This is especially true for formulas. Thus, there have been considerable changes
in the use of stabilisers and plasticisers.
Synthesis of Crude Oil and Rock Salt
Crude oil/natural gas and rock salt are the starting products
for PVC manufacturing. Ethylene is the result of crude oil in
the intermediate stage of naphtha through thermal “cracking”.
Chlorine, on the other hand, is produced from rock salt through
chloralkali electrolysis. For this purpose the modern, energysaving
membrane process is commonly used today. Sodium
hydroxide and hydrogen are thereby produced as important
by-products. In turn, they are the raw materials for many other
syntheses. Vinyl chloride (VC) is produced from ethylene and
chlorine at a ratio of 43% to 57%. VC is the monomeric building
block of PVC. The transformation of VC to PVC takes place
through various technological processes.
Salt crystals are of essential importance in PVC production. It is made of 57 percent
salt, which is available on the planet in virtually unlimited amounts, and
43 percent crude oil.
Photo: Südsalz GmbH
films, as well as medical applications, membranes, and non-rigid
films. Approximately 1.6 million tonnes of PVC was processed
in Germany in 2009.
Important Economic Factor
In 2010, the German plastics industry earned 95 billion euros.
The 415,000 employees in the plastics industry work in approximately
7,100 different companies.4
The Swiss PVC industry contributes considerably to the success
of the entire plastics industry. It achieves an annual revenue of
approximately 14.4 billion Swiss francs with its 34,000 employees,
i.e., more than 10 billion euros in some 850 companies.The
Austrian plastics industry employs more than 26,000 employees
in approximately 600 companies and generates an annual
turnover of 5.8 billion euros. PVC plays a decisive role in this
economically important sector.
Everything about PVC 5
PVC products are derived from a white, odourless powder
which is mixed with additives for the further processing of
semi-finished and finished products. Such admixtures are not
only found in practically all plastics, but also in materials such
as glass, steel, concrete, etc.
Basically, the following additives are used:
• stabilisers and co-stabilisers
• polymer agents to improve tenacity, heat-and-form stability,
and processing performance
Additives facilitate processing and simultaneously determine
the properties of end products. The choice of additives depends
on processing procedures and demands on the finished
products. Depending on the choice of additives, PVC as a raw
material is developed into sturdy, thick-walled pipes for drinking
water or extremely thin, flexible film for packaging fresh
meat. Additives thereby provide a wide range of product properties.
The use of stabilisers guarantees sufficient heat stability for
PVC during processing and protects the end product from
change due to heat, UV-light, or oxygen. Especially inorganic
and organic salts of the metals calcium, zinc, barium, lead and
tin are added to PVC products. These salts are firmly anchored
in the polymer matrix. They are not released during the use of
these products. The use of stabilisers has undergone a significant
change in recent years. One reason for this was that the
European industry discontinued the sale and use of cadmium
stabilisers in all EU member states.
In addition, the European Stabiliser Producers Association
(ESPA) and the European Plastics Converters Association (EuPC)
agreed to the voluntary commitment “Vinyl 2010” in October
2001 to replace lead stabilisers. Several intermediate goals have
therefore been established (basis: consumption in 2000):
• 15 % reduction in 2005
• 50 % reduction in 2010
• 100 % reduction in 2015.5
The goal for 2010 was surpassed in 2008. The reduction of lead
stabilisers was already at ca. 76% in 2010. At the same time, the
research and development of alternative stabiliser systems in
recent years has made enormous stride at great financial cost.
In addition to systems based on calcium/zinc, whose market
share in Western Europe increased from 5% in 1994 to over
50% today, tin also plays an important role. Moreover, new developments
utilise metal-free organic stabilising systems.
The amount of thermal stabilisers used in mixtures has been
reduced in recent years through effective additives and more
exact engineering processes.
Recycled materials might contain cadmium and lead due to the
recycling of older products. This is permitted by law in order to
create incentives for the use of recycled materials.6 Directive
494/2011 by the EU Commission from 20 May 2011 regulated
the use of recycled materials containing cadmium.7
Visitors receive information about environmentally friendly membrane electrolysis
which saves an enormous amount of energy: it is an important measure in the
reduction of CO2 emissions.
Approximately 70% of PVC produced is used in Europe to
manufacture rigid products such as window profiles and pipes,
which are distinguished by their longevity and weather resistance.
The remaining 30% covers soft applications. Plasticisers
provide PVC with special properties of use similar to those of
rubber. This naturally hard material becomes flexible and elastic
through plasticisers. At the same time, it retains its shape.
Soft PVC can be applied to a wide range of products in various
ways. Pastes made of a mixture of PVC and plasticisers expand
the range of possibilities, e.g. by means of expressive vinyl wallpaper
or easy-to-clean flooring.
Soft PVC is distinguished by its outstanding properties of use
which offer a versatile range of possibilities. Flexible products
such as artificial leather, weather-resistant roofing membranes,
or flame-retardant cables enhance our lives and make them
safer and more comfortable. In medical care, soft PVC applications
have stood the test of time for decades. Blood bags, tube
systems, and wound dressings are essential components of
patient care. PVC products are even recommended for allergy
sufferers due to their compatibility.
The most frequently used plasticisers are esters from phthalic
acid. In terms of application, a change has taken place on the
European market in recent years in favour of high-molecular
Special plasticisers have also become important economically
in the meantime. These include polymer plasticisers based on
adipic acid, adipates, terephthalates, and other phthalate-free
plasticisers such as Hexamoll® DINCH.10
In public discussions, phthalates are repeatedly linked to harmful
effects on humans and the environment. These generalisations
are not justified. Many phthalates differ from one another
considerably in terms of effect.
The short-chained phthalates (DBP, DIBP, BBP, DEHP), which are
low-molecular weight plasticisers or LMWs, have been classified
as toxic to reproduction, i.e. they are suspected of having an
influence on sexual function and fertility. As part of REACH, the
new European legislation on chemicals, these phthalates have
been listed as “substances of very high concern”. Their production
and application are subject to an approval process.
In contrast to LMWs, the phthalates DINP and DIDP, which are
high-molecular weight plasticisers or HMWs, have other properties.
These substances are not subject to labelling and may
be used for all present applications. DINP and DIDP are some
of the most researched substances in terms of toxicology and
ecology. The two plasticisers have undergone EU risk assessments
and evaluations with no objection. This ended a tenyear
process of extensive scientific evaluations by supervisory
agencies and legislators. In the Official Journal of the European
Commission from 13 April 2006, it was expressly confirmed that
no risks are expected from these substances for human health
and the environment.
In December 1999, the European Commission first issued a
three-month limited ban on the use of certain phthalates in
soft PVC for children’s toys which children under three years
of age place in their mouths according to their research.11 This
temporary measure resulted in a permanent legal regulation
(2005/84/EC) in January 2007. Accordingly, the plasticisers DEHP,
DBP, and BBP are neither allowed to be used in children’s toys
nor in any other items used for babies. However, DINP, DIDP
and DNOP12 may be used in children’s toys and baby products
which children do not place in their mouths. The technical description
is found in the guidelines of the European Commission
on the interpretation of the concept “which can be placed
in the mouth”. 13 The European Parliament made the decision
to limit the use of these phthalates exclusively on the basis of
the precautionary principle, not on the basis of toxicological
PROCESSING AND PRODUCTS
PVC can be processed into various products in a number of ways. The range extends from
heat-insulating, energy-saving windows to sturdy pipes and easy-to-clean floor coverings.
Approximately seventy percent of PVC materials are used in the building sector, many of
which are long-life products.
Extruder or Injection Moulding
PVC is one of the few polymers which can be processed thermoplastically
and by means of pastes.14 Thermoplastic processes
take place primarily on extruders or so-called screw
presses. The final products are pipes, profiles, sheets, tubes,
and cables.15 Film and floor coverings are created by means
of calenders (rolling mills). Fittings and casings are produced
in the injection moulding process and hollow bodies by blow
Emulsion and micro-suspension PVC is applied as a paste to
various soft PVC products such as tarpaulins, flooring, coverings,
and artificial leather. As an alternative, rotation moulding
is used to shape dolls and balls.
A Wide Range of Products
PVC can be used in numerous products due to its outstanding
properties and therefore is an integral part of our lives.
In Germany, approximately 70% of all PVC applications are intended
for the construction sector. In particular, this includes
window profiles, pipes, floor coverings, and roofing membranes.
PVC windows are weather resistant, durable, easy to clean, economical,
and recyclable at the end of their life cycles. Sturdy
pipes made of rigid PVC transport valuable drinking water,
drain roofs, and dispose of sewage water. They can be easily,
safely, and economically installed by means of structural and
civil engineering. Building products made of PVC are distinguished
especially by their longevity: this is a decisive criterion
for selecting the appropriate material.
Amount of processed PVC according
to the relevant sector in Europe in 2010
Used PVC products are too good to throw away. The European PVC industry has organised
a recovery system for the most important PVC products in order to save valuable
resources and has set ambitious goals for the future.
Increase in Recovery Quotas
The Arbeitsgemeinschaft PVC und Umwelt e.V. has commissioned
the Consultic Marketing und Industrieberatung GmbH
at regular intervals to compile data about PVC waste in Germany.
In 2007, the amount of PVC waste was approximately
563,000 tonnes (505,000 tonnes in 2005). This corresponds to
1–2% of the overall volume of household waste and industrial
waste similar to household waste. The share of post-consumer
waste from this amount was at 403,000 tonnes (360,000 tonnes
in 2005). Approximately 77,000 tonnes (60,000 tonnes in 2005)
of this amount were recycled mechanically and by feedstock
recycling. If production waste is included in these statistics,
the amount of recycled materials totals approximately 221,000
tonnes (180,000 tonnes in 2005). In actuality, the recycled
amount is even higher. “In-house recycling” is not included in
these statistics. During this process, the production waste generated
in converting machines is comminuted and then immediately
Based on the overall amount of waste (post-consumer and
production waste), the recycling quota is approximately 36%.
Additional PVC waste undergoes energy recovery through
state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technology – primarily in waste
incineration plants. Since PVC has a calorific value similar to
that of brown coal (approximately 19 MJ/kg), the material
contributes positively to energy balance when incinerated in
household waste (approximately 11 MJ/kg).
Mechanical recycling has been used in PVC production and
processing for many decades. The largest part of unmixed
waste flows directly back into production. The PVC industry
has developed a number of initiatives for the recovery of postconsumer
waste which are now established on the market.
PVC construction materials make up the largest amounts in
waste management. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft PVC-Bodenbelag
Recycling (AgPR) and RoofCollect – the successor organisation
The collection and recycling of replaced PVC window systems is common practice
today. At the end of the process, modern heat-insulating windows are manufactured
which save energy and improve internal climate conditions.
Photo: Rewindo Fenster-Recycling-Service GmbH
Everything about PVC 9
of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für PVC-Dachbahnen Recycling
(AfDR) – handles this waste in Germany. Rewindo Fenster-Recycling-
Service GmbH has established a broad-based, take-back
system for windows. It works closely with its recycling partners
Tönsmeier Kunststoffe and VEKA Umwelttechnik. Since the beginning
of 2005, Rohr-Recycling in Westeregeln – a subsidiary
of the Tönsmeier-Gruppe – and Kunststoffrohrverband (KRV)
have established an alliance to increase the amount of materials
to be recovered. The new initiative takes back PVC pipes
throughout Germany and arranges for the recycling of used
products. Furthermore, the PVC industry in Germany cooperates
with the European initiative Recovinyl established by
In Austria, the industry initiatives ÖAKF for plastic windows
(Österreichischer Arbeitskreis Kunststoff-Fenster) and ÖAKR for
plastic pipes (Österreichischer Arbeitskreis Kunststoff-Rohre)
organise the return and recycling of used PVC materials. The
amounts collected in this manner are processed primarily by
Reststofftechnik GmbH in Salzburg.
Furthermore, the dissolving process VINYLOOP® developed
by Solvay allows the recycling of previously difficult-to-treat
composite materials (such as PVC/copper made from cable
remnants or PVC/polyester from used tarpaulins). Innovative
VINYLOOP® technology was launched after completion of a
ten-kiloton plant in the Italian city of Ferrara at the beginning
of 2002. Additional facilities are being planned.
Recycling possibilities are also available for packaging, cables,
credit cards, and mixed PVC waste. These offers and numerous
recycling products are listed in the PVC-Recycling-Finder of the
AGPU at www.agpu.com.
The PVC industry has contributed greatly towards a sustainable
economy with its forward-thinking, take-back and recovery systems
for used products.
Hydrogen chloride in pure form is obtained by thermally treating
PVC products. The hydrocarbon part in PVC is used to generate
heat and electricity in the same process. Hydrogen chloride
then goes back into PVC production.
Feedstock recycling differentiates between processes with and
without the limitation of chlorine. The recovery process without
the limitation of chlorine is especially suitable for soiled
and PVC-rich mixed plastic material fractions. The PVC industry
has been researching suitable forms of technology for the
feedstock recycling of PVC-rich waste streams since 1992.
The rotary furnace oven at the recovery plant at DOW/BSL in
Schkopau is technologically suitable for PVC-rich waste streams
in feedstock processes. PVC waste in solid and liquid form can
be recovered at this plant, which started operations at the end
of 1999. Through the thermal treatment of waste, the hydrogen
chloride separates when the released energy is used. Processed
into hydrochloric acid at the plant, it can be used again as a
raw material for the production of PVC.
In the production of calcium carbide at Alzchem Trostberg
GmbH in Hart, high calorific plastic fractions with a chlorine
content of up to 10% can be used. These waste materials are
used to increase the amount and calorific value of the resulting
carbide furnace gas.
Ecoloop, a subsidiary of Fels-Werke GmbH, employs a new
technology for the energy-efficient conversion of organic and
carbon-rich materials such as used wood or plastic into purified
syngas as an energy source. In the process, raw materials
with a chlorine content of up to 10% can be used.
Currently in Germany there are about 68 plants for the thermal
treatment of mixed municipal waste. They have an approved
total capacity of approximately 19 million tonnes at their disposal.
In the past, it was assumed that PVC contributed approximately
50% towards the chlorine input in waste incineration plants.
Today, this amount is estimated at about one-third (30–35%).
This reduction can be traced back to the recovery activities of
the DSD (Duales System Deutschland / “Der grüne Punkt”, etc.)
in the packaging sector, among other things.
The chlorine content in PVC is converted completely to HCl
during incineration and removed from the flue gas far below
the legally permitted emission limits as defined by prescribed
flue gas cleaning. The scrubber liquid is neutralised primarily
with burnt lime. The resulting calcium chloride is deposited.
Some waste incineration plants do not work with limestone
scrubbers. They neutralise with sodium hydroxide. This results
in a valuable saline solution.
In order to reduce the chlorine input, hydrogen chloride can
be separated from the flue gas as hydrochloric acid and used
again in chemical production. Five waste treatment facilities
in Germany – e.g. in Hamburg, Böblingen, Kiel, and Kempten –
work according to this principle.
Another possibility is offered by the NEUTREC process from
SOLVAY. Sodium chloride is recovered and purified with the
help of sodium bicarbonate in the flue gas purification of
incineration plants. Facilities used for the treatment of reaction
products containing sodium are in operation in Italy and
Built from recycled PVC materials, this yellow-framed platform at the bus stop
makes getting on the bus easier.
Photo: "Vinyl 2010"
10 Everything about PVC
The HALOSEP® process also offers the possibility of recovering
chlorine from waste incineration in the form of salt. Waste from
the flue gas purification of two major Danish waste incineration
plants was treated as part of a pilot program. In so doing, more
than 99% of the chlorine was recovered.
Dioxins and furans (PCDD/F) result from almost every incineration
process involving organic materials. The amount of these
undesired compounds depends heavily on the construction
and operation of the waste incineration plants.16 Remaining
emissions are minimized through steps towards flue gas purification
(adsorption filter). Since 2000, all European waste incineration
plants must emit less than 0.1 ng TEQ dioxin per m3
of exhaust gas, based on EU Directive 2000/76/EC.
Numerous investigations show that the PVC portion of household
waste does not effect the amount of dioxin formation
and thereby dioxin emissions.17 The complete sorting of PVC
products from waste does not alter the dioxin concentration
in exhaust gas. The reason is the salt content which is always
present in waste, for which food remnants among other things
No matter whether with or without PVC: there is no change
in compliance with the threshold value of 0.1 ng/m3. Thermal
and other control parameters in incineration have the greatest
influence on dioxin emissions. It would be better to discuss
exhaust gas rather than dioxins. Its toxicity is much higher
due to other pollutants. This is the case with the carcinogenic
substances PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as
benzo[a]pyrene) or fine dust particles. A holistic approach to
adverse effects is especially important for uncontrolled thermal
processes as seen in the following section.
PVC and RDF
The PVC industry arranges for a substantial portion of used PVC
to be recovered through various recycling initiatives (among
others to be found in the “PVC-Recycling-Finder” of the AGPU at
www.pvcrecyclingfinder.com) before the waste reaches refusederived
fuel (RDF) processing. In this manner, the chlorine content
of the fractions is reduced considerably for RDF processing.
The PVC share of “PVC-rich” fractions, which is sorted out during
RDF manufacturing, is usually only 5–15%.
PVC products stored in landfills are not harmful to human
health and the environment. Heavy metal stabilisers may in fact
reach the seeping water of landfills in small amounts, but are
more or less insignificant in comparison to heavy metals from
other sources in municipal waste. It is similar with plasticisers
which can migrate from soft PVC through micro-organisms.
They are broken down and do not lead to a toxically relevant
deterioration of the seeping water. This conclusion was reached
by an extensive international research project on the long-term
behaviour of PVC products in landfills and under ground. It was
conducted by the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg, the
University of Linköping, and Chalmers University in Göteborg
In principle, valuable materials such as plastics do not belong
in landfills. The depositing of untreated plastics and other organic
materials is outdated and is no longer permissible in
some European countries. Since January 2000, all organic waste
in Switzerland must be thermally treated in waste incineration
plants before reaching landfills. In Germany, a corresponding
regulation in the form of a ban on depositing organic waste
such as wood, paper, and plastics has been in effect since 2005
In Austria, the topic was dealt with in the same
way through the Landfill Ordinance of 2008.
Bags made from used lorry tarpaulins are not only modern; they also save valuable
resources by ideally making use of the longevity of the material.
Plastic materials and natural products can only catch fire if sufficiently
large ignition sources and oxygen are available. In the
process, aerosols and carbon black arise as well as gases which
flare up and react to oxygen.
The toxic properties of gases from burnt plastic materials are
comparable to those which result from the burning of natural
materials such as wood and paper. Numerous examinations
have shown that approximately 90–95% of deaths during fires
can be traced back to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. This
gas arises during every fire and kills without warning. In contrast,
hydrochloric acid (HCl) forces one to flee due to its pungent
odour, even in the smallest, harmless concentrations.
There are numerous discussions about carcinogenic smoke
gases besides the acute toxic fire gases (CO, HCN, acrolein, HCl,
etc.). They also are produced by every fire. Some of the most
important of this kind are PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)
and fine dust particles.
When materials containing chlorine such as PVC, or other plastic
and natural substances, catch fire, dioxins and furans may
result. These substances, however, bond strongly to the carbon
black particles created during a fire and therefore are not bioavaiable
to people, animals, and plants. In examining people
exposed to fire in contrast with those not exposed to fires,
higher levels of dioxins could not be determined. The same
conclusions were reached after PVC fires, e.g. in October 1992
in Lengerich/North Rhine-Westphalia, where several hundred
tonnes of PVC went up in flames.
Every smoke gas is corrosive due to high temperatures, humidity,
etc. If this gas contains additional acids (e.g. NOx, SOx, HCl,
acetic acid), that can increase the effect. When PVC catches
fire, a special corrosive smoke gas arises based on its chlorine
content – HCl. Recent studies show that corrosion – contrary
to the opinion of certain experts – in the case of fire does not
play a role in the feared outage of safety electronics because
it happens comparatively slowly over a long period of time.
Important reasons for the outage of safety electronics are short
circuits which result from electrically conducted soot residue.
The amount of economic damage due to corrosion depends
on the circumstances of the fire and the beginning of the renovation
work; it may increase if the renovation work takes place
at a later date. In the process, the overall economic costs show
that the economic advantages of using PVC are greater than
the possible damage from a fire. The replacement costs alone
for PVC cables in Germany would amount to approximately one
billion euros per year. These costs are therefore similar to renovation
costs (not only due to corrosion) for all fires in Germany
PVC products perform well ecologically as well as socially and economically. Essential for
this success are low life-cycle costs, longevity, and the recyclability of these high-quality
Evaluation of Sustainability
Sustainable development must be evaluated from ecological,
economic, and social perspectives. Assessments of individual
areas can be misleading. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft PVC und
Umwelt has held extensive dialogues with experts from the
economic sector, the sciences, environmental associations, as
well as with journalists about PVC. One result of this process
is the independent PROGNOS Study from 1999/2000 on the
sustainability of selected PVC products and their alternatives:18
it was the first study that dealt with the concept of “sustainable
development” for individual products. The result was a balanced
picture of PVC products with good results, but also with
open questions and the possibility for improvements, which
has led the way to a sustainable future for PVC.
Current information on the topic is summarised briefly below.
In so doing, ecological observations are based on LCAs and risk
assessments, for the entire life cycle of products of course.
Part of the ecological quality of products and services can be
determined by life-cycle observations. Risk assessments round
off the ecological quality. In order to evaluate sustainable development
reliably, social and economic factors must also be
taken into consideration.
PVC products are distinguished by their longevity, low costs for
maintenance, and recyclability. Their life-cycle costs are correspondingly
low: this is a fact that has direct influence on their
market success. Consumers choose the more cost-effective
product with the same performance. They know that economic
resources are limited, just like all other resources, and try to use
them carefully for optimal benefits.
However, low life-cycle costs are also tied to ecological and social
factors in qualitative and quantitative terms. These savings
can therefore also be used for ecological and social objectives.
We see two possibilities in assessing costs and ecology simultaneously
in quantitative terms:
One possibility is to present the costs in addition to ecological
results such as in the eco-efficiency model at BASF. In this
example, ecological results are combined into one unit by standardisation
and importance and compared to the standardised
Another possibility is the direct combination of the two criteria,
which means a “compensatory” method. In so doing, possible
cost advantages between alternative products are used
to finance ecological improvements, such as steps for saving
energy or preventing climate effects. For example, a specific
calculation is available for PVC windows and alternatives. By
using approximately 1% of the product costs for a PVC window,
100% of the climate effect generated through this product
can be compensated:22 this is a small financial expenditure
with great effect. This “compensatory” method has been used
for years for “climate-neutral flights”.
Low life-cycle costs also have a positive effect on the social sector:
for example, the poor and many nations in the Third World
are now more likely to be able to afford low-priced products
e.g. in health and education.
On the other hand, the refusal of some communities to use
PVC means “more costs without any quantifiable ecological advantages”.
23 The additional costs resulting from the refusal can
in fact be calculated and no longer invested in sensible ecological
and social gains.24 PVC substitution without economic
and ecological basis can even lead to a deterioration of the
present situation, as determined by Enquête Commission25 and
the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA).
For decades, PVC products have stood the test of time in almost
all areas of our daily lives. In the process, they have been
extensively researched and continuously developed in order to
offer high safety and quality standards: this extends from the
selection of raw materials and improved formulas to modern
manufacturing methods. The wide range of products satisfy demanding
VOLUNTARY COMMITMENT OF THE EUROPEAN
The European PVC industry has achieved all the objectives of its voluntary commitment
“Vinyl 2010” and thereby has made a considerable contribution to the sustainable
development of its products. With the follow-up agreement “VinylPlus”, it will continue
this active involvement.
After many individual improvements, the European PVC industry
has made important cooperative efforts in recent years
to master future challenges in terms of sustainable development.
European PVC manufacturers agreed on an industry charter in
1995 under the auspices of the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers
(ECVM). According to the charter, the signatories are
obligated to continuously reduce impact on the environment
in terms of “responsible care”. The results of the agreement are
specific emission limits in manufacturing S-PVC and vinyl chloride,
which fall below legally stipulated values.
In addition, the four major European associations
• ECVM (PVC manufacturers)
• ECPI (PVC plasticiser manufacturers)
• ESPA (PVC stabiliser manufacturers)
• EuPC (plastics converters)
signed the Voluntary Commitment of the European PVC Industry
on Sustainable Development in March 2000. An amendment
to this commitment followed in October 2001 entitled “Vinyl
2010”. 27 The initiative involves key questions in the individual
stages of the life of its products. The first part deals with the
manufacturing of basic materials: PVC, plasticisers, and stabilisers.
It describes continuous improvement in terms of environmental
impact and the use of resources. The topic of the second
section is the responsible and sustainable use of additives.
The admixture of additives contributes considerably to the innovative
development of PVC. The third section describes the
contribution made by the industry to disposing of products
responsibly at the end of their life cycles. The fourth section
extensively presents how the PVC industry would like to maintain
adherence to the various commitments. This is where the
availability of respective funds is explained. In 2003, a supervisory
body was brought together with representatives from the
EU Commission, EU Parliament, trade unions, and, somewhat
later, consumer associations. Representatives from environmental
associations were also invited, but they did not wish
to participate. Furthermore, a progress report was published
annually, showing the most recent findings on the path to sustainable
development. The final report for 2010 documented
the tremendous progress made in the past ten years in waste
management, recycling technologies, stakeholder engagement,
and the handling of additives. All the goals of “Vinyl 2010” were
reached or even surpassed.
The completion of “Vinyl 2010” also marks the beginning of the
new sustainability initiative “VinylPlus”28 which was launched
in the summer of 2011 and built on the success of the preceding
program. “VinylPlus” was developed in conjunction with
the international NGO The Natural Step (TNS) which is at the
forefront of research and dialogue about sustainable development.
The new initiative is based on five commitments with
the following goals: a quantum leap in recycling rates of PVC
and in achieving the development of innovative recycling tech-
26 This aspect of social sustainability is found in the method propagated by BASF
(SeeBalance), as well as in other sustainability labels such as those for bio-fuels.
27 Further information as well as the annual progress reports are found at
living. Savings from buying reasonably-priced products, on the
other hand, can be used to help promote further ecological
and social improvements; this is an effective contribution to
In addition, optimising manufacturing and processing methods
guarantees good working conditions, which are also reflected
in job safety and a low accident rate.26
28 Detailed information on “VinylPlus” can be found at www.vinylplus.eu.
Everything about PVC 15
nologies, addressing concerns about organochlorine emissions,
ensuring the use of additives based on sustainability criteria,
increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies
and raw materials in PVC production, and promoting sustainability
throughout the entire PVC value chain. Transparency
and open dialogue with internal and external target groups
will be the focus of “VinylPlus”. In the process, the new commitment
places great emphasis on continuous dialogue with
stakeholders. As with “Vinyl 2010”, the PVC industry will publish
an independently verified and audited report, documenting
the progress of all goals established by “VinylPlus”.
Material of the Future
PVC is capable of playing an important role in sustainable
development. One prerequisite is that political decisions are
made based on proven criteria.
Considerable improvements in raw material and energy efficiency
have been established in the current ecological profiles
on manufacturing PVC.29
The low life-cycle costs of many PVC products allow for the
financing of important ecological and social improvements.
Progress in recycling and disposal has greatly resolved the
problem of waste. Many formerly, fiercely-debated topics concerning
risk (substitution of problematic additives) could be
defused. This has lead to a scientific and political re-evaluation
are economically, ecologically, and socially “competitive”.
PVC offers many positive prerequisites for sustainable development
for our industrial society through:
• low-energy expenditure in manufacturing and processing
• the use of the practically unlimited resource of salt
• the combined production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide
• low emissions and waste during manufacturing and processing
• mechanical and feedstock recycling
• good price-performance ratio of products along with environmental
• immense ecological/social optimisation potential based on
outstanding economical advantages.
In spite of the advantages of PVC and PVC products already
achieved, manufacturers and processors are working resolutely
in the future on
• further improvements on ecological properties of PVC
• further improvement on the economic competitiveness of
• and the further improvement of social needs.