How is that you may ask? – There have been some pretty scary reports about PVC and it’s affect on our environment.
But are the reports true? What about…
DIOXIN – Dioxin is a major concern with vinyl production. However consider these facts:
- Environmental releases of dioxin-like compounds decreased by approximately 90% between 1987 and 2000. Most of these reductions, almost 75%, occurred between 1987 and 1995. These reductions were achieved through a combination of regulatory activities, improved emission controls, voluntary actions on behalf of industry, and the closing of a number of obsolete facilities.
- Declining levels of environmental dioxins are characterized by a changing pattern of emission sources over time. Industry and regulatory controls on waste incineration have resulted in a significantly lower contribution of dioxins from this source since 1987.
- As dioxin emissions from industry decline, unregulated sources such as backyard barrel burning of garbage and residential wood burning rise in significance as contributors to dioxin emissions.
- The combined dioxin emissions from ethylene dichloride (EDC) and vinyl chloride manufacture contributed 30 g-TEQ, or just over 2% of the total amount, in the year 2000. Backyard barrel burning, on the other hand contributed more then 35% of total dioxin emissions for the same year.
- 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.
- Air and water releases of dioxin from the chlorine industry fell to 8.6 grams in 2003, the most recent year of dioxin Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting. This amount represents less than 1 percent of 1995 dioxin emissions from all quantified sources in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Dioxin Source Inventory.
- The EPA instituted dioxin reporting for certain industries, including chlorine producers and users, in the year 2000. Data show the chlorine sector’s total air and water dioxin emissions have declined 70% in four years of reporting. The chlorine industry is a small and vanishing source of dioxin emissions to the open environment.
The graphic on this page compares four years of the chlorine sector’s air and water dioxin TRI releases to EPA’s 1987 and 1995 Dioxin Source Inventory emissions to vinyl production. You can see the volume has grown in vinyl production since 1987 while dioxin emissions have steadily decreased.
PHTHALATES – Another common concern with PVC is phthalates. Some critics of vinyl products express concern about the presence of phthalates, a so-called “plasticizer” which is used to make vinyl more flexible. However, vinyl used in architectural applications is always considered to be more on the rigid side and therefore does not contain phthalates. Therefore this concern does not apply to the vinyl fence industry. But we did find this article with a very interesting perspective regarding phthalates. CLICK HERE TO GO TO ARTICLE
LEAD – Another prominent environmental concern, is banned from use in vinyl products made in North America. An important consideration when you purchase vinyl, you want to ensure it is made in North America where you can be sure you are receiving material that is safe and extruded in an environmentally responsible manner.
WORKER SAFETY – U.S. – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics show that injury and illness rates among PVC workers are significantly less than the manufacturing average. In the 1970s, industry scientists discovered that vinyl chloride (VCM), 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. OSHA 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.
The reduction of the release of known harmful chemicals has been reduced in North America due to the strict regulations multiple agencies have set out which responsible corporations follow diligently. Such a responsible corporation is Homeland Vinyl Products.
Consider the ‘Flip’ Side – The Energy and Environmental Benefits of PVC
Energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. PVC saves energy and reduces CO2 emissions. How? 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
Vinyl fencing specifically is energy efficiency because of vinyl’s durability and aesthetics, vinyl outdoor living products do not require replacement as often as many other outdoor building materials. Durability is a significant benefit for the environment because less energy and other resources are needed to make the replacement product.
Vinyl fencing enables resource conservation because vinyl building products like decking and fencing do not require the use of paint, stain or harsh chemicals, and can directly replace other products that do require the use of these maintenance treatments on a continuous basis.
Recycling – PVC is inherently recyclable.
More than 1 billion pounds are recycled annually (mostly post-industrial), according to a recent study. As a thermoplastic, it is important to note that all PVC products are recyclable. Recycling facilities across North America accept both post-consumer (i.e., material that has been used for its intended purpose and is being recovered for recycling) and post-industrial (the scrap left over from a product manufacturing process) PVC scrap.A database of PVC vinyl recyclers and companies manufacturing products from recycled vinyl is available on Vinyl Recycling
Many manufacturers make products using recycled PVC content.
For instance, some vinyl carpet backing systems are made of 100 percent recycled materials, representing many tons of vinyl scrap per year that would otherwise go to a landfill. For PVC pipe, recycling is seldom an issue because the product stays on the job almost indefinitely, providing decades of reliable service. PVC vinyl roofing membranes can be recycled into such second-generation products as speed bumps, parking curbs and asphalt patching material.
If recycling is not economical and PVC scrap must be landfilled, it can be trusted to remain safely inert under normal landfill conditions. PVC is so stable in landfills that vinyl membranes have been used as landfill liners and caps. A recent study conducted by the Vinyl Institute analyzed vinyl scrap under simulated landfill conditions and found that there was little, if any, degradation of the material.
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. The USGBC PVC Task Group reached similar conclusions in its draft report issued December 2004.
So is vinyl green?
Here’s a checklist you can use to see if a product is green:
Examine the Product’s Composition
What are the raw materials used to create the product?
All vinyl products are made from a combination of vinyl resin and various additives, which gives these products their particular properties. Vinyl resin is essentially derived from two simple ingredients: petroleum and salt. Petroleum or natural gas is put through a process, called cracking, to make ethylene, which is combined with the natural element chlorine to produce ethylene dichloride. Another cracking process transforms ethylene dichloride into a gas called vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). Finally, through a process known as polymerization, the gaseous monomer is converted into a fine, white powder – vinyl resin. However, one more step remains before the resin becomes a usable material. Besides looking very much like flour, vinyl resin is analogous to flour. Both are of little use, by themselves. However, just as flour can be combined with other ingredients to make a moist cake, a flaky pie crust, or a variety of breads, vinyl resin can achieve various desired properties suited for a variety of end-products once it is combined with selected chemical additives and modifiers. The diagram below illustrates this process:
Most formulations are different, and most are proprietary. Most vinyl fencing formulations are made up of about 80 percent vinyl resin. Some of the additives commonly used in vinyl outdoor living products include the following:
- Stabilizers improve heat stability, minimizing the degradation of the vinyl during exposures to high temperatures in the extrusion process. They also add to the product’s strength and help it resist cracking, splitting, pitting.
- Impact modifiers improve impact strength, or resistance of the profile to cracking or breaking during the fabrication processes (sawing, routing and punching). They also improve resistance to general abuse during transportation, storage and installation.
- UV inhibitors protect the finished product from damaging rays of the sun. Titanium dioxide is the most common material used.
- Pigments provide consistent color throughout the product and may screen or absorb UV radiation, which would otherwise cause rapid degradation of the product.
Did the materials come from renewable resources?
It’s important to note that one of the major components involved in the creation of vinyl is common salt which is a readily available, inexpensive product.
Does the manufacturing process release harmful substances?
Not into the environment, substances released must meet stringent environmental requirements. See section ‘Vinyl is Green’ for more information.
Are adhesives needed to make the product viable?
Vinyl adhesive is required to attach caps.
What are they using?
We use a system adhesive for cold welding of PVC.
Are coatings or finishes needed to make the product viable?
What are they using?
Examine Other Aspects of the Product
Does the product nurture the health and well-being of its occupants?
Yes. Considering vinyl fencing eliminates the need for the homeowner or maintenance person to paint, stain, use sealant or otherwise expose themselves to harmful chemicals in maintaining their fence or outdoor structure.
Does the product do the job well?
Whether aesthetics, privacy or providing an effective barrier is the aim of the customer vinyl fencing does its job very well!
How much energy does it use?
Once installed the product uses virtually no energy other than that of a water hose or pressure washer to occasionally clean.
Does the product release VOCs? and At what rate?
No VOCs are released with this product.
How is the product packaged and transported?
The product is tarped and shipped via truck, or ship. Considering how light vinyl is compared to wood or metal much less energy is expended in the transport of it. In addition with the durability of the product, less production, packaging, transportation costs are needed per family, the fence/product is purchased and installed once in a lifetime.
Can the product be maintained in a benign manner?
Using safe cleaning products?
Is the product durable? Recyclable?
Yes. Vinyl is durable and recyclable.
Can the parts be separated for recycling?
All parts are made of the same composition and no sorting is necessary.
Can it be made into something else?
Yes. Applications for the reuse of vinyl is unlimited. Visit Vinyl In Design for more information on how vinyl is reused.
Can the product be returned to its manufacturer at the end of its useful life?
Not at this time, the product should be disposed of at a facility equipped for recycling and distribution.
What is the price range for the product?
The initial cost is high however considering the maintenance of cedar; vinyl is less expensive over a few years.
Does the manufacturer provide life cycle cost analysis on this product?
Not at this time.
Some great vinyl reference web sites: