Frequently Asked Questions

Why use a material based on chlorine, which has no equivalent in nature?

Chlorine is one of the most common elements in nature, where it is even more plentiful than carbon. Many people know that common salt contains more than 60% of chlorine, but contrary to what many people believe, organic substances containing chlorine are also very common in nature. Key natural sources of organic chlorinated substances are the oceans, forest fires and fungal activity. Scientists have identified more than 3,000 naturally-occurring chlorine-based substances. They are made by marine organisms (sponges, corals, sea slugs, jellyfish and seaweeds), plants, seeds, fungi, lichens, bacteria, freshwater algae and insects. Certain phytoplankton and seaweeds produce chlorinated metabolites tentatively identified as trichloroethylene and perchlorethylene, substances well known as chlorinated solvents. The oceans release some three million tonnes of methyl chloride into the atmosphere every year.

The presence of chlorine confers some unique advantages to PVC: Lower use of non-renewable resources like oil, chemical resistance and good fire-resistance properties are among the benefits of chlorine.

The electrolysis required to make PVC is a very energy intensive process. Is its use sustainable?

Most chlorine today is produced by separating the chlorine and sodium ions of a salt brine in an electric field. This process is called electrolysis. One ton of salt (and water) yields around 600 kg of chlorine, 680 kg of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and 17 kg of hydrogen.

Electrolysis plants consume a substantial amount of energy but despite this, PVC production uses less overall energy than most alternatives; this is quantified by eco-profile data. Consequently, greenhouse gas emissions related to PVC production are lower as well.

Some 9 million tons of chlorine are produced in Western Europe and used in more than half of all chemical activities.

The electrolysis of salt therefore is a basic process to get important raw materials used in the chemical industry. Some 34% of chlorine is used to produce PVC, 23% to produce isocyanates for the production of polyurethanes, chlorine is also used in the production of polycarbonates or silicones and low amounts to keep 98% of Western Europe’s drinking water safe and produce other chemicals. Sodium hydroxide is important for the manufacture of paper, soap and textiles and other applications. Hydrogen is either used chemically or to generate energy.

Since both chlorine and sodium hydroxide are produced in a highly efficient way, they are also a good basis for low cost materials. Products made from them, e.g. PVC-products therefore are also low cost products, a very important point in a sustainability assessment.

In summary, electrolysis yields in the end products requiring relatively low energy and being low cost, an important environmental, economic and social contribution to sustainable development! (for more information on chlorine, see )


Chlorine production is creating Hg (mercury) emissions. Isn’t this a reason to stop producing chlorine?

Chlorine and caustic soda are key building blocks that underpin more than half of the Western European chemical industry turnover of EURO 380,000 million. These basic raw materials are made by passing electricity through brine. The majority of Western European plants use mercury as the negative electrode or cathode in this process. The mercury keeps the highly reactive products apart, which is essential for safe and efficient plant operation.

As mercury is a toxic metal, the industry is progressively converting chlorine plants to other technologies when they reach the end of their economic life. This switch is helped by the high cost of power, as membrane technology is more efficient than mercury cells.

Chlor-alkali manufacturing is non-dispersive and depends on the efficient and complete recycling of mercury within the plant. Today, the residual mercury emissions from the chlor-alkali industry are very low. Substantial improvements have been made, with mercury emissions reduced by over 85% in the past decade, to 10 tonnes (1997) and less than that today. This compares with estimated global total man-made and natural emissions of 20,000 tonnes per year

Isn’t it dangerous to transport and store chlorine?

Most chlorine is used at the site where it is made, and is not stored or transported at all. However, since it is used by industry to make such a diverse range of products, it is inevitable that some must be transported. Railways are the main method of transport, Stringent safety measures are taken during transport. Chlorine is transported in specially-designed steel containers, ranging from cylinders carrying a few kilograms of chlorine to road and rail tank wagons containing several tonnes.

In Europe, the Regulations concerning the International Transport of Dangerous Goods by Rail (RID), were recently upgraded for chlorine rail tankers. Chlorine transport in Europe has been declining. In 1995, 15% of Western European chlorine production was transported in Europe. In 2005, 761,000 tonnes of chlorine (less than 10 % of the amount produced) were transported in Europe, of which more than 75% was shipped by rail.

A Europe-wide chlorine transport emergency system is in place which provides expert technical assistance where needed. Bulk chlorine has been shipped throughout Europe for almost 50 years without a single fatality.

What is done to protect workers from vinyl chloride monomer, which is a known carcinogen?

Most cases of cancer have no known cause but some are related to the exposure to certain chemicals, including Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM). From information on cancers in general, it is known that one single exposure does not develop a cancer. Only workers repeatedly exposed during many years to high levels (orders of magnitude higher than those currently permitted) have developed Angiosarcoma of the Liver (ASL). ASL is a very rare form of cancer of the blood vessels of the liver which has been known to pathologists for very many years.

Once it was known that there was a relationship with VCM, the association of Angiosarcoma of the Liver (ASL) with occupational exposure to VCM was established in 1974.

Once this association was established, industry led the way in reducing exposures drastically. We do not believe that any worker who started work after 1975 is currently at risk in plants located in the countries (such as Western Europe) where strict controls were introduced following the discovery of this problem. Some new cases of ASL may however still appear in workers who had high exposures before 1975.

Maximum permitted exposures are now set out in a E.U. Directive. Expert opinion and research has led European governments to be convinced that an exposure of 3 ppm during 8 hours a day through a full career of 40 years poses no significant risk to health. Typical levels in VCM and PVC manufacturing plants are lower and are monitored continuously.

ASL has been definitely linked to vinyl chloride exposure. Possible associations have been reported between exposure to high levels of VCM and other types of cancers. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently reviewed its assessment of the literature. This time, the conclusion of the experts was that there is “sufficient evidence” that vinyl chloride causes also hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC - cancer of liver cells). Proposals to recognise a link between VCM and cancers of other organs were rejected by a majority of the experts. The overall classification of VCM (Class 1) will not change. The main causes of HCC in the general population are hepatitis B and C as well as high alcohol consumption. It is possible that VCM might accelerate the development of a cancer in a liver already damaged by the hepatitis virus or ethanol, but the available information is not sufficient to substantiate this speculation.

Is PVC production dangerous for workers?

Some people believe that work in the chemical industry in general is dangerous, and hence also PVC production. And there were indeed really important negative impacts due to carcinogenic Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM) until the seventies, when this carcinogenic property was detected. Not knowing about this hazard, VCM was even used previously as a narcotic gas in hospitals! After this hazard was identified very fast and highly effective measures were taken. Today the management of the potential hazard of working with VCM within the PVC industry is an example cited of how to responsibly, and effectively, solve such a problem.

In general, the levels of hazardous substances in the atmosphere of chemical plants is closely monitored and controlled. Control of emissions, personal protection, training and medical control of plant personnel ensure that exposure remains well within the margins of safety. The frequency and severity of accidents is very low today in the chemical industry, much lower than the average of the total industry And this lowering of accident numbers goes on, many companies in the chemical industry aim for a “zero accident future”

Is VCM emitted into the atmosphere during PVC production?

The European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM) which represents all of the European EDC/VCM/PVC producers has issued two industry Charters:

  • Industry Charter for the Production of VCM and PVC (suspension process), in 1994
  • Industry Charter for the Production of Emulsion PVC, in 1998.

Among other commitments, these Charters set tight limits on VCM emissions from VCM and PVC plants as well as on the maximum amount of residual VCM present in PVC resin.

The inter-governmental Oslo and Paris Commissions for the Protection of the North Sea (OSPAR) later issued two Decisions on emissions from VCM and suspension PVC plants as well as a Recommendation on emissions from emulsion PVC plants. The limits imposed by OSPAR for VCM emissions are broadly in line with the limits specified in the Charters.

In 1999, the companies that signed the 1994 charter underwent a third party verification by an independent consultant (Det Norske Veritas - DNV). A new verification was completed at the end of 2002. A verification of compliance with the emulsion PVC Charter was completed in 2004. More information on:

As a result of industry efforts, the total yearly emissions of VCM to atmosphere from all plants of the companies that signed the Charters went down from 7694 tons in 1989 to 1062 tons in 1999. This represented less than 200 g per ton of PVC produced. A recent eco-profile of the PVC industry showed that the emissions of VCM related to the production of suspension PVC (the most common type of PVC) are now around 75 g per ton of PVC produced.

Unless in extremely high concentrations, which pose an ignition hazard, the trace emissions of VCM from production facilities pose no toxic hazard at all to humans or the environment. The VCM dissipates very rapidly in the open atmosphere to a highly diluted form and breaks downs within a few hours once exposed to daylight.

Is transporting quantities of potentially volatile VCM worth the risk?

Transporting VCM presents the same risks as transporting other flammable materials such as propane, butane or natural gas, for which the same safety regulations apply.

For many years now there has been a trend in the industry towards integrated plants where both VCM and PVC are manufactured on the same site. As logistics costs increase further we expect this trend to continue, however VCM transport will still be needed for some smaller PVC plants that do not require sufficient quantities of VCM to make on-site production feasible.

As with petroleum and other volatile gases, when VCM is transported the tankers used are designed and constructed to the highest standards to resist impact and corrosion. The routes for road tankers are controlled and monitored to avoid heavily populated areas and the drivers of tanker trucks are specially trained. Risk assessments are conducted to make sure that the lowest risk transport option is selected and in some cases this has resulted in the industry taking on accepting additional logistics costs to make risks as low as possible.

We are not aware of any fatal accidents in Europe involving the transport of VCM over the last 50 years.

Are there any toxic by-products of VCM production?

First of all, use of Best Available Techniques includes taking measures to suppress by-product formation. This makes both economic and environmental sense.

Techniques for the prevention of emissions to atmosphere include capturing vent gases, which are treated by scrubbing, filtration for removal of particulate matter, and subsequently by thermal oxidation in dedicated units or in a hazardous waste incinerator.

Techniques for the prevention of discharges into water include appropriate recycling of streams back into the process, stripping of volatile pollutants, alkaline treatment of streams containing less volatile chlorinated organics to convert them to inorganic chloride. Biological treatment of the pre-treated wastes reduces residual pollutants to acceptable levels, for example by concentrating them into the activated sludge for subsequent solid waste treatment. Any dioxins produced and not destroyed within the process are segregated into the solid waste stream.

Heavy end tars from distillation are recycled into the process or destroyed by incineration or equivalent technologies. The chlorine is recovered in the form of HCl and usually recycled into the production process.

All solid wastes containing organic by-products, including spent catalyst from oxychlorination, are appropriately treated as hazardous wastes because of their organics content.

Isn’t PVC production a recognised source of dioxin emissions?

The chemicals industry as a whole, and the PVC production chain in particular, are only very minor contributors to dioxins’ emissions throughout the world (much less than 1 %). As an example, a survey carried out in 1993 attributed to the entire chemical industry only 0.5 gram/year of dioxin emissions out of a total of 484 grams emitted per year in the Netherlands.

In 2001 US PVC manufacturers carried out an extensive monitoring programme, to evaluate the extent of dioxins releases to the open environment as well as to secure landfill. The most likely estimate was 32 g I-TEQ/yr with approximately 12 g being released into the open environment and about 19 g disposed of in secure landfill. This compared to a total released to air of several thousands of grams.

A recent eco-profile of the PVC industry showed that the total emissions of dioxins in Western Europe related to the production of PVC are now around 2 g I-TEQ per year

Formation of very small quantities of dioxins can only occur in the ethylene oxychlorination, which is one of the process steps leading to the production of VCM. These dioxin molecules are adsorbed by the solid catalyst and hence are easily contained by filtration and controlled treatment of this catalyst.

The production of PVC itself and of PVC-based products takes place at temperatures far below those required for dioxin formation.

Do products made of PVC contain dioxins?

There are no detectable amounts of dioxins in the PVC resin sold by ECVM member companies. A published study dating from 1998, demonstrated that virgin suspension from 11 major production sites in Europe does not contain any process generated dioxins at concentrations above the limits of quantification (2 parts per trillion).

Doesn’t PVC contain potentially toxic metal additives?

Additives play a vital role in creating the wide range of performance characteristics, which allow the current use and innovative development of PVC applications. Additives include stabiliser systems which contribute to guarantee long term performance and durability of the articles in which they are used and this contributes to an efficient use of the resources. Metals are immobilized in the plastic matrix, in much the same way as they are within traditional glass products made from lead crystal, and will not be released during the service life of the articles.

The use of these materials is subject to a range of existing regulations. The field of regulation is continuously evolving with

risk assessments playing an important role. The PVC industry fully supports and is deeply involved in the process of assessing the risks of additives and taking phase-out measures when appropriate

Isn’t lead, used as a stabiliser in PVC, poisonous?

Lead-based stabilisers used within PVC formulations are immobilized in the plastic matrix in much the same way as they are within traditional glass products made from lead crystal, and lead compounds will not be released during the service life of the articles.

The Risk assessment on lead shows that the use of lead stabilizers is safe to the consumers.

Despite this absence of identified risks, ESPA and EuPC committed in 2000 to replace lead stabilisers by 2015. Based on intensive effort and significant investment, the first interim target of a 15 percent reduction was achieved in 2004 - one year ahead of the original schedule. 2007 industry statistics indicate that the phase out has now reached around 35%. The next target is a reduction of 50 percent in 2010. The commitment to phase out lead stabilisers by 2015 was confirmed and extended to the EU 25 in April 2006.

Is cadmium still used as a stabiliser?

Council Directive 91/338/EEC of 18 June 1991 limits the use of cadmium compounds in PVC products. Except in a very few applications, placing on the market of products manufactured from plastic materials coloured or stabilised with cadmium is prohibited if the content of cadmium exceeds 0.01% by mass of the plastic material.

The use of cadmium in all stabiliser systems placed on the European market has been phased out in March 2001, as part of the initial steps of the Voluntary Commitment (Vinyl 2010). This means that no member of ESPA sells anymore such products in the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, and that EuPC communicates to its members not to use cadmium based stabilisers

Is it true that phthalate plasticizers, used in soft PVC, cause cancer?

No. Phthalates are not classified as human carcinogens by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and there is no evidence to suggest that phthalates can cause cancer in human beings. Since 1980 a large number of investigations have shown that feeding high levels (many thousand times greater than foreseeable exposure) of phthalates and other chemicals to rodents over their lifetime causes a large increase in microbodies in the liver called peroxisomes. This 'peroxisome proliferation' leads to the formation of liver tumours. However, when these chemicals are given to non-rodent species such as marmosets and monkeys (primates considered to be metabolically closer to humans), such peroxisome proliferation and liver damage is not seen.

It is now generally accepted that phthalates are one of a number of substances which can cause liver tumours in rodents by a mechanism which does not occur in humans.

On the basis of these differences in species response, it was concluded some years ago that phthalates do not pose a significant health hazard to people. This scientific view was adopted by a European Commission decision of 25 July 1990 which states that DEHP shall not be classified or labelled as a carcinogenic or irritant substance. The correctness of this decision has recently been reaffirmed by two comprehensive reviews

In February 2000, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) - which is part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) - re-classified the phthalate plasticiser DEHP as "not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans." Some years earlier it had been classified as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" based on rodent students.

Further information and references may be found at

It has been said that phthalates could cause human reproduction problems. Is this true?

It has been hypothesised (and at the moment it remains a hypothesis) that some reported cases of reduced sperm count in men may be due to exposure to chemicals in the environment which mimic the natural female hormone oestrogen. There is still no evidence that there is a general problem in humans and no evidence that chemicals in general, or any chemicals specifically, are the cause. However, this hypothesis has sparked interest in the development of screening tests which could be used to identify oestrogenic substances.

The most recent in-vivo (live experimentation) studies specifically intended to look for oestrogenic effects are a series of internationally accepted and validated tests which measure changes in the reproductive organs of female rats which occur via processes under oestrogenic control. They have shown that all the phthalates ranging from dibutyl phthalate (DBP) to diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) produce no oestrogenic effects.

In addition, numerous multi-generation fertility studies have been carried out on many different phthalates. The most recent of these are 2-generation studies which demonstrate that exposure of rats to diisononyl phthalate (DINP) and DIDP in utero, during lactation, puberty and adulthood does not affect testicular size, sperm count, morphology or motility, or produce any reproductive or fertility effects. No outcome which might be anticipated from hormone modulation was observed. The maximum level dosed was around 600 mg/kg bw/day.

In a 1995 publication Sharpe et al hypothesised that the observed effects on rat testes after administration of a low dose of butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) were related to an oestrogenic mechanism. In fact there are some inconsistencies in this study and therefore it is being repeated in other laboratories. One of these repeat studies [23] has been completed and shows no effects on testes at these low doses.

It is true that some laboratories using newly developed in-vitro (test tube) screening assays have shown some phthalates, such as dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP), to exhibit a weak positive result indicating possible oestrogenicity. However, these findings are equivocal in that these phthalates have proved to be non-oestrogenic in some studies.

Most phthalates, including DEHP, diisononyl phthalate (DINP) and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), have been tested and found to produce no oestrogenic effects

Recently published data from in-vitro screening tests indicates that, in contrast to other studies DINP may be weakly oestrogenic. However, these authors recognise that when plasticisers are eaten they are broken down to other molecules and that it is these to which humans are actually exposed. They have shown that these breakdown products are not active in the screening tests. They therefore conclude that results from in-vitro tests on whole phthalates may have little significance for human health and that it is the results of the tests on live animals which are important.

The potential reproductive risk posed by some phthalate esters has recently been reviewed by the Commission of the European Communities While it is the case that some phthalates have been shown to cause reproductive effects in rats and mice, these have occurred at levels 10,000 times higher than the estimated exposure to people. It is, therefore, very unlikely that any significant risk to human reproductive health is associated with the use of phthalates.

Further information and references may be found at

Recent evaluations have raised concerns about the use of DEHP in medical devices. Shouldn't we at least limit that application?

DEHP-plasticized medical devices have become vital to modern healthcare. DEHP-plasticized PVC is a popular choice for many medical applications because it is clear, affordable, strong, flexible, easily sterilized and, unlike alternative plastics, won't ‘kink’ restricting the flow within the tube.

In Europe it is the only plasticiser recommended for use in blood bags by the European pharmacopoeia.

The US Food and Drug Administration recently issued a "Consumer Update" stating concern for very young male infants who are critically ill and have prolonged exposure to multiple devices containing DEHP." However, whilst noting that studies have not been conducted which would rule out effects on humans it stated that DEHP-containing devices have been used on newborn babies for many years without apparent ill effect. The FDA expressed little concern for adults receiving medical treatments such as intravenous or dialysis. The concerns about possible risks are based on the effects seen in rodents. However, tests on primates, which are much better predictors of effects of DEHP in humans than rodents, have demonstrated that they are much less susceptible to effects from DEHP than rodents.

Regulatory agencies in many countries that have approved DEHP-plasticized vinyl for use in medical devices make the point that substitutes may expose patients to hazards not present with devices made with DEHP. Any alternative to DEHP in vinyl would have to undergo scientific scrutiny and receive approval from such authorities before it could be used.

The medical device industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world. All such products, including their components, therefore have to conform to rigorous safety standards.

For more information please refer to Plasticisers in Medical Devices and to the DEHP Information Centre

How will REACH impact phthalates?

DEHP will most probably be subject to authorisation. On the other hand, DINP and DIDP will not be considered as substances of very high concern, because they are

  • Not Category 1 or 2 CMRs under the EU Dangerous Substances Directive
  • Not Category 1A or 1B CMRs under the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) for Classification and Labelling
  • Not PBTs or vPvBs
  • Not “substances of equivalent concern”, because they are neither endocrine disrupters, nor substances of equivalent concern for any other known health or environmental effect

Why not substitute another material for PVC?

  • because one day, you may need a blood transfusion,
  • because you appreciate hygienic & disinfected walls, floors, soils & seats in hospitals,
  • because you demand hygienic packaging for fresh meat in supermarkets,
  • because you need on a daily basis your bank card & credit card,
  • because you want sustainable household plumbing, piping & sewage installations,
  • because you want safe & non-inflammable electrical installations in your home,
  • because you prefer maintenance-free window frames that last 3 times longer than precious tropical wood,
  • because you like to discover the façade of the San Marco Place in Venice, covered during it's renovation with PVC foils depicting the master ornamentation,
  • because, in the full heat of sun or under the rain, you love the protection provided in the Stade de France by its PVC roofing,
  • because on the dry island of Azores, you appreciate the water collected in a volcanic crater to water flowers & grow fruit,
  • because PVC is important in your daily life...
  • and all this at lowest cost and with low impact to the environment according to eco-balance results

Aren’t alternatives to PVC less expensive?

When considering the cost of PVC products and alternatives it is important to not only consider the sales price but also to consider any direct and indirect costs throughout the product life and at the end of life when the product becomes waste. Direct costs include maintenance of products during their life cycle (e.g. painting of wood windows), or lower energy demand due to low weight in transport (e.g. in cars) Indirect costs include among others an assessment of costs of reducing the impact on the environment, for instance by reducing the greenhouse gases emissions.

Several studies have considered full-life costs of PVC products and alternatives. Conclusions have shown that when all direct and indirect costs are considered PVC products are usually the least expensive option in most of the major product applications. A study which examined several major applications for PVC was completed for the UK Government in 2001 and concluded that, “The life-cycle costs of PVC products would appear to involve significantly lower costs than equivalent products made out of alternative materials.”

Why do some local authorities still choose to ban PVC if all that industry says is true?

Due to pressure of some non-governmental organisations in the past, some local authorities initiated a PVC phase out program. Guidelines were written for public procurement, often with the help of NGO’s. These guidelines usually contain misleading and outdated information. That’s why the ban (or material substitution) is not justified.

By communicating the developments in the PVC-industry on the field of recycling, etc many local authorities are beginning to review their phase out policy and rewriting their guidelines.

Unfortunately, some local authorities are still reluctant to change their guidelines and some NGO’s keep supplying them with misleading and outdated information. The only way to change this is to be as transparent as possible, keep communicating the facts and to educate people to make material choices based on proper full scientific lifecycle assessment.

Why use PVC in buildings if fire can result in the emission of toxins, including dioxins?

Out of all plastics, PVC is the most widely used in buildings, such as drinking water and waste water pipes, window frames, flooring and roofing foils, wall coverings, cables etc. Like all other organic materials used in buildings (other plastics, wood, clothing etc.), PVC products will burn when exposed to enough heat. However, unlike these other materials PVC products are naturally self-extinguishing, i.e. if the ignition source is withdrawn they will stop burning. Because of its high chlorine content PVC products have burning characteristics, which are quite favourable, i.e. they are difficult to ignite, the heat production is comparatively low and they tend to char rather than generate flaming droplets.

But if there is a large enough fire in a building PVC products will start to burn and will emit toxic substances like any other organic material.

The most dangerous toxicant emitted during fires is carbon monoxide (CO), which is responsible for 90 to 95% of deaths from fires. CO is a subtle killer, since it has no odour. Most people die in fires while sleeping. And of course CO is emitted by all organic materials, be it wood, textile or plastics.

PVC, as well as some other materials, also emits acids, organic or inorganic ones. These emissions can be smelled and are irritating, rapidly alerting people to the presence of fire. A specific acid, hydrogen chloride, is connected with burning PVC and few other products. To the best of our knowledge, no fire victim has ever scientifically been related to HCl poisoning.

Some years ago no big fire was discussed without dioxins playing a major role both in communication and measuring programmes. Today we know that dioxins emitted in fires do not impact people, since people exposed to fire have been examined in several studies. The dioxin levels measured in these studies were never elevated against background levels. This very important fact has been recognised by official reports. And we know that many other carcinogens are emitted in fires, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and fine particles, which present a much higher hazard than dioxins.

So there are very good reasons to go on using PVC products in buildings, since they perform well technically, have good environmental and very good economic properties, and do not make any greater contribution than other materials to the toxicological impact of fires.

Don’t harmful vapours build up indoors if you use PVC products like flooring and shower curtains?

Properly installed PVC products have no adverse impact on indoor air quality, and the small amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted will dissipate quickly through normal ventilation. Tests have shown that the initial odour of products like shower curtains and vinyl (PVC coated) wallcoverings dissipates much faster than odours from most paints. PVC products are able to meet low VOC requirements in standards such as FloorScore,™ Green Label Plus, and GREENGUARD.

Indoor air quality can be affected by biological factors, as well. In hot and humid climates, vinyl wallcoverings can cause condensation to occur inside the walls. Manufacturers have addressed this issue with innovations such as mildew-resistant or “microvented” products that allow moisture to circulate. By discouraging moisture and resulting microbial growth, PVC flooring products and vinyl-backed carpet are some of the vinyl products that contribute to actually improving indoor air quality

Why is PVC still used as a packaging material?

PVC was one of the first polymers used in food packaging applications that replaced many traditional materials such as glass as well as various forms of card and paper. Some of the key reasons for its success compared to traditional materials are highlighted below:

  • PVC is lightweight compared with glass, with the added benefit of reduced transport emissions
  • It is shatter resistant which was seen as an immense benefit as it would reduce the number of accidents in the home and outside.
  • PVC has excellent organoleptic properties which means that it imparts no taint or taste to foodstuffs
  • PVC has excellent barrier properties for the preservation of food
  • Innovative designs and product shapes can be achieved and all with excellent clarity and transparency

Compared to other thermoplastics PVC offers some unique properties and these include:

  • A wider range of additives can be used in PVC compared to any other polymer (this is due to its polar nature). So PVC in packaging can have a diverse range of applications from rigid thermoformed sheet – used in sandwich cartons, through to soft cling film – used in the preservation of food
  • It can be formed into products requiring complex shapes such as those with blown handles
  • PVC is very easy to print on.
  • Excellent cost/performance ratio

PVC is fully approved for use in food contact applications throughout the world. Many of the additives currently used in PVC are already on European incomplete additives lists such as those set out in EC Directive 2002/72 and later amendments.

There are various options for PVC packaging at end-of-life. Like any other thermoplastic, PVC can be mechanically recycled and recycling programmes have been established throughout Europe for both bottles and trays. Other options are possible.

In summary, PVC packaging plays an important role in the protection of a variety of foodstuffs, from specialised tamper-proof packaging to commodity food display trays.

Ceasing the use of PVC in packaging would reduce the freedom of choice to the consumer with no added benefit to the environment.

What is the PVC industry doing to stop people deselecting PVC as a material?

Despite the prejudices, the PVC industry is gaining business in major applications and is still growing. It understands that prejudices and lingering misperceptions are best addressed by an open communication of the facts towards stakeholders.

The industry’s Vinyl 2010 voluntary commitment is playing a major role in this communication. It’s an important framework for the continuous improvement of the environmental, social and economical performance of the European PVC-chain. For example, it ensured elimination of cadmium additives and its lead reduction programme is ahead of its intermediate targets The industry has also set up a recycling policy for PVC waste management in Europe. More information may be found on

How much does PVC contribute to the “mountains of plastic waste” problem?

The total amount of municipal waste generated in the European Union was close to 200 million tons in 2000. The amount of construction/demolition waste represents an additional 400 million tons. Plastics waste represented about 20 million tons in total. The amount of PVC waste arising in 2000 was estimated to be less than 3 million tons, hence it represents only 0.5 % of the total amount of waste.

Plastics represent around 9 % by weight of the total amount of Municipal Solid Waste generated in Western Europe. PVC represents 7 % of this plastic waste, hence around 0.6 % of the MSW.

PVC therefore does not contribute significantly to the “mountains of waste”, the more so as PVC products have a comparatively high density and usage of PVC in high volume/weight applications (bottles, other packaging) is limited.

Won’t dumping PVC into landfills pollute soil and ground water?

A study carried out in 1999 by Rostock University on behalf of the European authorities concluded that the long-term behaviour of PVC in landfill does not raise concerns when tested under conditions which simulate actual landfill behaviour. Testing at extreme conditions to accelerate the decomposition yielded questionable results. The PVC industry asked the Universities of Hamburg-Harburg and Linköping to perform tests at temperatures up to levels tested by Rostock. The main findings were:

  • No degradation of the PVC polymer was observed.
  • Some plasticizers are subject to losses. However, due to microbial transformation, the concentrations in the leachate are not correlated with the losses. Phthalates and their degradation products may occur, but only transiently and at low concentrations.
  • In contrast to this, the release of stabilisers appears to be attributable to superficial leaching. Concentrations in leachate can usually not be discerned from the background. The contribution of PVC products to the inventory of heavy metals in municipal solid waste is anyway low. For instance, a recent inventory showed that the relative contribution of PVC to lead present in landfills is estimated to be around 5 %.

All things considered, PVC products do not constitute a substantial impact on the toxicity of landfill leachate. Provided that landfills are operated appropriately and responsibly in accordance with present technical regulations, landfilling of PVC products does not raise environmental concerns.

Why not make PVC bio-degradable so that it can rot away?

PVC is mainly used in medium or long-life applications, for which its ability to resist natural degradation is a significant advantage.

When used in packaging, PVC is often chosen for its barrier performance and hence any process that would progressively impair this resistance would be counterproductive

Bio-degradable plastics are presented as one of the possible solutions to the problem of litter. The main products causing the litter problem are plastic carrier bags and plastic drink bottles. Neither of these products is made of PVC anymore, and hence PVC packaging is not actually a significant contributor to the plastic litter problem.

Aren’t harmful dioxins emitted when PVC is incinerated?

Any waste containing chlorine, including wood and food residues has the potential to produce dioxins when incinerated. As soon as the amount of chlorine in the waste exceeds a threshold of a few fractions of %, the actual amount is not a significant factor. The main factor is the operating conditions of the incinerator. The overwhelming importance of combustion conditions on dioxin formation has been established by numerous researchers. The single most important factor in forming dioxin-like compounds is the temperature of the combustion gases. Oxygen concentration also plays a major role on dioxin formation, but not the chlorine content

The design of modern incinerators minimises PCDD/F formation by optimising the stability of the thermal process. To comply with the EU emission limit of 0.1 ng I-TEQ/m3 modern incinerators operate in conditions minimising dioxin formation and are equipped with pollution control devices which catch the low amounts produced. Recent information is showing for example that dioxin levels in populations near incinerators in Lisbon and Madeira have not risen since the plants began operating in 1999 and 2002 respectively.

PVC is not the main source of chlorine in MSW. For instance, a study commissioned by the E.U. authorities showed that the putrescible fraction contributes 35% of the total chlorine whereas the plastics only contribute 25 %.

Several studies have also shown that removing PVC from waste would not significantly reduce the quantity of dioxins emitted. The European Union Commission published in July 2000 a Green Paper on the Environmental Issues of PVC. The Commission states that: “It has been suggested that the reduction of the chlorine content in the waste can contribute to the reduction of dioxin formation, even though the actual mechanism is not fully understood. The influence on the reduction is also expected to be a second or third order relationship. It is most likely that the main incineration parameters, such as the temperature and the oxygen concentration, have a major influence on the dioxin formation”. The Green Paper states further that “at the current levels of chlorine in municipal waste, there does not seem to be a direct quantitative relationship between chlorine content and dioxin formation”.

Is the incineration of PVC more expensive than for other types of waste?

Any type of waste brings specific constraints and hence specific costs. The main costs incurred in the incineration of PVC result from the neutralisation of HCl. These costs disappear when HCl is recovered and sold. An attempt to identify the costs of PVC incineration has been made in a study carried out on behalf of the E.U. authorities.

Generation of residues from neutralisation of acid gases ((HCl, SO2) is highly dependent of the gas treatment system employed. In the EU study it was assumed that 100% of the chlorine was to be neutralised by adding neutralisation agents. The fact is that a significant part of the chlorine is being held in the bottom ash and the fly ash (15% each) i.e. not more than 70% of the chlorine is to be neutralised by adding neutralisation agents. If this is taken into account, the generation of neutralisation residues from PVC in European MSWI’s is on average 0.4 kg/kg PVC and the corresponding costs are low compared to the benefits PVC products bring to the consumers

Are there better possibilities than landfill and incineration?

Landfilling is an unsustainable waste treatment option for all plastics, not only for PVC. A study carried out in 2002-2003 in order to compare different end of life treatment options for PVC-rich waste concluded that all recovery/recycling options are preferable to landfill. PVC, like other thermoplastics, has intrinsic energy, which can be recovered through incineration. The chlorine part ends up in the form of hydrochloric acid, which can be recovered too. Flexible PVC will generally contribute higher energy content than rigid PVC, although even rigid PVC has a calorific value similar to paper. Recovering both HCl and energy significantly increases the eco-efficiency of incineration.

Different types of waste will have different optimal routes for valorisation. Assessing a combination of environmental, logistical, and economic and market considerations will determine the best option. Therefore, the whole range of waste management options should be considered when deciding on the treatment of plastic waste.



Suitable option for

Mechanical Recycling


Sorted, single PVC products

Feedstock Recycling


PVC mixed with other plastics
Energy Recovery Non-sortable / contaminated mixed plastics and other solid waste

Does PVC in the waste stream disturb the recycling of other plastics?

Mechanical recycling of polymers so that they can be used again for high value second life applications is really only possible when you have waste made from that polymer alone. The recycling of any specific polymer will be disturbed by presence of any other polymer. Fortunately, PVC material is very easy to separate from polyolefins (other plastics) by density difference, which makes separation into mono streams for efficient recycling possible. And,if separation is not practical, mixed plastics can be recycled into applications for which the purity is of less importance (e.g. traffic management devices, park benches).

An alternative to ‘Mechanical recycling’ is ‘Feedstock recycling’ which is well suited to the treatment of mixed plastics. The only requirement is that the installation must have a section to separate and recover HCl from the other gases, which is usually the case.

Isn’t PVC difficult to recycle?

PVC is very easy to recycle mechanically (i.e. without destroying the polymer chains). Mechanical recycling is well suited when clean fractions are available in sufficient quantities on a regular basis. PVC can be recycled repeatedly (in laboratory tests more than 8 times); depending on the application, because recycling does not measurably decrease the chain length of its molecules. There are already several purpose-built operations in Western Europe, which recycle pipes, profiles, flooring, and membranes. The West European PVC industry has made clear public commitments to significantly increase mechanical recycling in these applications.

Large quantities of PVC pre-consumer (industrial waste) are being recycled: In 2004, 92 % of the about 760 kt of industrial waste generated in the EU-15 were recycled . Close to 100 kt of PVC post-consumer waste were recycled in 1999. The efforts of Vinyl 2010 are now adding 150 kt based on 2007 figures, and the intention is to grow this to in excess of an extra 200 kt a year by 2010.

The main difficulty for the recycling of post-consumer PVC is in collecting suitable waste at an acceptable cost. This difficulty does not affect PVC alone, but all plastics as well as many other materials.

Next to conventional mechanical recycling, a dissolution process (Vinyloop ®) has been developed to extract PVC from products such as cables, tarpaulins, etc. The recovered product is PVC compound that can be used without further processing and cleaning. The first commercial plant has started up in Italy early 2002. Another one was recently started up in Japan.

Feedstock recycling is an alternative to overcome the limitations of mechanical recycling. Its purpose is to recover a basic chemical element such as carbon and/or chlorine. Extensive trials have also demonstrated the suitability of two commercial plants in Germany to carry out PVC feedstock recycling. Other technologies for PVC feedstock recycling are being developed in Europe and Japan.

If we want to save precious fossil fuels, shouldn’t we stop producing PVC which is made from oil?

Oil, gas and coal are non renewable resources and will be eventually exhausted. Connected to their use are also carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which create the Greenhouse Effect as most scientists believe. Some organisations therefore ask not to use products made from plastics and substitute them by products made from renewable resources.

Most products from plastics and even more so from PVC are low cost products. In the case of PVC, with only some 0.5 % of the cost one can compensate for 100% of the energy demand (i.e. also for the oil, gas etc. used to produce them) and for 100% of the greenhouse effect related to the production of these products. The compensation can be achieved by investing this 0.5 % in an energy (and at the same time Greenhouse effect) saving activity, e.g. in developing countries.

So one can rightly claim to: “Save oil and Greenhouse effect with low cost products made from oil!”, by only using a small amount of money to compensate for these impacts. This is much more efficient than using higher cost products made from renewable resources.

PVC is in addition a special plastic, since it uses less oil, gas etc. due to its high chlorine content. Besides, this oil can be substituted by renewable resources when the conditions are right; this is practised e.g. by companies producing PVC in India and Brazil dehydrating bio-alcohol from crops such as sugar cane to ethylene; and using this ethylene to produce PVC.

Why could PVC be good for sustainable development (environment, economy, society)?

Since the acceptance of the concept of Sustainable Development (SD) (world conferences of Rio de Janeiro 1992 and others) it became accepted that SD is based on three pillars, namely ecology, economy and society.

The environmental impact of PVC products has been investigated in numerous studies, quantified in many life cycle analyses and compared many times to products made from alternative materials. The latest and most comprehensive study was a Review commissioned by the EU. It showed PVC products to be comparable to alternatives in their environmental impact. The strongest aspects of PVC products are performance and cost; PVC products are amongst the lowest cost products for a given performance (see also Q 2). Low cost products can positively contribute to all areas of SD:

  • Low cost products save scarce money, so they are favourable to a sustainable economic development.
  • Low cost products are more affordable to socially disadvantaged people, not only in industrialised but more so in developing countries and the saved money can be used to optimise social development. Both points are favourable to a sustainable social development.
  • The money saved by low cost products can be used to optimise ecological development, so they are favourable to a sustainable ecological development too.

The huge potential impact of low cost products made from PVC can be shown easily: With only 0.5 % of the cost of PVC-products one can compensate the entire energy demand (100%!) and the entire Greenhouse Gas effect (100%!) caused by them. Investing this small amount of money into environmental improvements allows it to create products which are much better in these important environmental categories than all alternatives.

The social aspect of products is not assessed well enough up to now, except for the positive economical/social points mentioned above in this chapter and the health impacts on workers in the PVC industry: After many years of sustained efforts, workers safety has reached a very high standard in the chemical industry altogether compared to other industries.

Why are Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) important?

To truly understand a product’s environmental ‘footprint’, its entire life cycle needs to be evaluated. This is known as LCA. Through this form of assessment environmental effects associated with a product’s manufacture may often be counterbalanced over

time by a reduction in transportation and installation coasts and the benefit of a long, beneficial, low-impact life. For example, emissions associated with PVC window production compared to wooden windows are far outweighed by decades of energy-saving benefits and not having to replace them as quickly or apply preservative paints or chemicals.

PVC products perform favourably in terms of energy efficiency, thermal-insulating value, low contribution to greenhouse gases, low maintenance, and product durability

Recent life-cycle studies show the health and environmental impacts of PVC building products are comparable to or less than the impacts of most alternatives

Do PVC producers genuinely care about the environment, or are they just meeting minimum legal regulations?

The targets of the PVC producers are certainly more ambitious than just meeting regulatory requirements: The PVC industry in Europe has voluntarily risen to meet the challenge of sustainable development. It has developed an integrated approach to deliver responsible cradle-to-grave management, set out in a 'Voluntary Commitment of the PVC Industry' that was signed in March 2000. This Commitment is now known under the name “Vinyl 2010”.

The Voluntary Commitment builds on principles of the chemical industry's Responsible Care® programme and addresses key issues across the PVC lifecycle. It contains quantifiable targets, with interim deadlines, that will allow the industry to track its progress towards achieving the overall objectives.

The annual Vinyl 2010 progress reports show that the industry has been forging ahead with continuous environmental improvement and resource efficiency through a 'learning by doing' approach, strengthening the partnership within their supply chain. The industry delivers quantifiable results. More information on

How does PVC industry demonstrate its long-term commitments?

The PVC industry has a long record of public commitments. It started with commitments towards continuous environmental improvement in manufacturing, as illustrated by the two Charters signed by European PVC producers that establish tough environmental standards for production ahead of legislation. Substantial reductions of industrial emission levels have been achieved as a result.

European PVC industry employers signed in October 2000 a social dialogue charter on issues surrounding the sector's future and their potential social effects on employees.

Through this charter, the PVC industry commits in particular to:

  • The development of European health, safety and environmental standards
  • The development of standards for employees’ initial and further training
  • The transfer of standards to EU accession countries
  • A dialogue on European works councils about e.g. the development of the PVC industry against the backdrop of European policy

In March 2000, the resin producers, additives producers and converters signed a “Voluntary Commitment of the PVC Industry”. It was further developed and re-issued in October 2001 under the title “Vinyl 2010 - the Voluntary Commitment of the PVC Industry”. It was again updated in May 2006. With this document, the PVC industry has undertaken to implement important actions covering the period 2000 – 2010 and beyond, which will apply to

  • PVC manufacture
  • Additives - plasticisers and stabilisers
  • Waste management
  • Social progress and dialogue
  • Management, monitoring and financial scheme

Progress towards these commitments is documented in the Progress Reports issued each year since 2001. These reports are verified by an independent third party. For more information, consult

Never before has a voluntary approach been developed through such an open process and covered an entire production chain and all the aspects of sustainable development.

How does the PVC industry see the future?

The PVC industry’s Voluntary Commitment demonstrates the fact that it is serious about the sustainable development of PVC, and that it believes that PVC can make an important contribution to a more sustainable future for society.

In combination with the cost-performance and good properties PVC will remain a material of choice for the specifier and final customer. The improvements of the production processes and the management of waste support this excellent product-performance.

The industry believes that its products have an important role to play in helping improve people’s lives and conserve natural resources in a world that is growing in population, with ever-increasing demands for water, food, shelter, sanitation, energy, health services and economic security