All about PVC

All about PVC

Grey Schedule 40 PVC plastic tubing for use as...

PVC is one of the cheaper plastics and consequently widely used.
PVC is a polymer – a large molecule created by linking together smaller molecules.
It is a combination of oil and chlorine. Chlorine is a salt, the same salt you use in the kitchen.
Over 50% of the weight of PVC comes from chlorine which means PVC requires less petroleum than many other polymers.
It is a thermoplastic material. It will melt when heated to a certain temperatures and harden when it cools.
It is naturally rigid but can be made flexible with the addition of more chemicals including phthalates.
PVC can be used in either form – hard or soft and is used as an insulator and coating for electrical cables, packaging, cling film, bottles, credit cards, audio records and imitation leather window frames, pipes, flooring, car interiors and to make medical disposables.

PVC is used massively in the building industry. Most water pipes are now made from PVC. They replace metal pipes that were less adaptable, more easily damaged and a lot more expensive.

PVC is known as the “poison plastic” because:

  • Toxic chemicals are used in its creation.One of those is vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). VCM is a gas and a known carcinogen causing cancerous tumors in the brain, lungs, liver and various tissues in humans.
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a chlorinated plastic.
  • Dioxins are unintentionally, but unavoidably produced during the manufacture of materials containing chlorine like PVC
  • Dioxin is a known human carcinogen and the most potent synthetic carcinogen ever tested in laboratory animals.
  • Burning these plastics can release dioxins.
English: A woman with black PVC-diapers

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Safe or lethal? The debate….


Toxic chemicals are most certainly used in its creation one of those is vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). VCM is a gas and a known carcinogen causing cancerous tumors in the brain, lungs, liver and various tissues in humans.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), found that early-era PVC (manufactured before 1977) could leach VCM into drinking water to levels that exceed the maximum contaminant level of 2 micrograms per liter of water.
Dioxins, which are lethal, are released if PVC is burnt in a low temperature fire such as an open fire or house fire.

The green movement argue that the toxins used to make PVC endanger those who work in the industry and can pollute the environment. They also claim that the toxins continue to leach out over the products lifetime putting the user at risk.


Supporters of PVC say that in the beginning manufacturers did not realise the dangers of VCM and since regulations were put in place in the 1970s those dangers have been minimised. They also claim that now the product is safe for users the chemicals are inert and no leaching has been detected.

If PVC is disposed of properly, then there is no risk of dioxins being released. Though of course this does not answer for house fires.

The argument is made more complex when phthalates are involved. Phthalates are a group of chemicals added to PVC (amongst other things), to make it more flexible. These chemicals are toxins and are not bound to the plastic. This means they are able to migrate out of plastic into the surrounding environment. That they do this is fairly well established. Whether they do so in amounts that could be dangerous or not,  is not so clear cut – but I bet you can guess which side believes what.

For an interesting summary of the debate read this article from Mother Earth News

This is from a man who works with PVC in his family business

And this is from Greenpeace

PVC is not as easy to recycle as other plastics but it can be done. Though again opinions differ.For pro try reconvynal and cons go to Earth 911

There’s lots more on the different plastics and what they are used for  HERE

Find out about all plastic, the boycott  and us  here

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