Environmental Impact of PVC

Environmental Impact of PVC

An environment is a beautiful place for living beings to sustain and service. However, with the evolution of human beings, it has become furthermore difficult for the environment to be sustainable. Human beings have evolved and developed different easy and effective ways to survive. Humans have developed many useful products as well as harmful by-products. The Discovery of plastic is one of them.

Plastics have been used by individuals and organizations over the years for different purposes due to their durability, cost-effectiveness, and lightweight. Plastic can be considered extremely useful but can be highly dangerous for the environment and living beings. Plastic products are often used and then dumped, sometimes purposefully and other times accidentally. But then these dumped plastics can break down into small plastic particles due to biodegradation or exposure to heat and water; called microplastics. The main difficulty with microplastic is its size. It is so small that it easily gets mixed with soil, air and water and thus causes danger to aquatic animals as well as land animals. Sometimes it is also inhaled by humans, causing them health hazards.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is one of the most commonly used and discarded forms of plastic, yet numerous studies have found it’s highly toxic to human health and the environment. PVC is found in children’s toys, clothing, consumer packaging, building materials, electronics, and many other household goods. The production, use, and disposal of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) have environmental consequences that range from global warming to decreased air quality. PVC’s production emits volatile organic compounds (VOC) and carbon dioxide. Most of the carbon dioxide that PVC produces is emitted during the production of the product and the transportation of the finished product. PVC also needs a lot of energy and produces a lot of greenhouse gases.

Now, the greenhouse effect is considered a natural process that warms the Earth’s body; but data and arguments have proven that the greenhouse effect is caused by greenhouse gases, which are human, generated.

Greenhouse gases and its effect on environment.

The use of plastic has increased a lot in the past few years, which consequently led to global pollution. With the rise in demand for plastic, manufacturers introduced PVC. PVC continues to be a universal polymer due to its relatively low cost and high performance. The consumption of PVC increased because of some reasons: fair priced, easy to process, possibly to be used in various applications, high degree of freedom in design, UV-stable, potential to recycle. Since PVC has made its place in the world, it has become difficult to substitute. Thus, with no other substitute in hand PVC continues to be consumer-friendly and not at all eco-friendly. Until 2021, global demand for PVC increased by 3.2%. Governments of different countries are trying to reduce the uses and consumption of PVC by different means, like surging the prices. Since PVC being low-cost is its USP, the government is trying to increase its prices so that it results in a decrease in demand.

The article ‘Not everything that is good for the economy is also good for the environment by Tucker, Paul, Journal of Commerce, says a lot about the scenario we are facing regarding PVC materials. It is important to be self-aware about the products that we use daily and their impact on our daily life as well as on the environment. It is high time for people to care for the Earth. The economy will most definitely sustain a country, but the environment will help people to sustain, thus care for the environment is above care for the economy.

There must be comparable alternatives for PVC, but those products might be less or more costly. There are two types of alternatives: traditional and modern. Under traditional alternatives for PVC, there is – clay, glass, ceramics, etc. And under modern alternatives for PVC, there is – ductile iron, copper, high-density polyethene (HDPE). There are many more alternatives, but the cost is the biggest concern. Ductile iron can be used to produce thinner objects than PVC; however, it is proven costlier than PVC material. Traditional alternatives such as glass, clay, and ceramics are also considered costly over PVC as well as fragile.

Alternatives and carbon footprints for PVC

The evolution of PVC has come a long way since 1913 when Friedrich Klatte, the German inventor received the first patent for PVC. Despite being one of the oldest synthetic materials, the history of PVC is hardly characterized by successful commercialization. PVC’s resistance to light, chemicals, and corrosion made it the best option for building applications, but the history of PVC has not been without controversy. Even though Life Cycle Assessment and eco-efficiency studies have shown PVC’s environmental performance is highly comparable to or even better than alternative materials, it still has been criticized for the carbon footprints that it leaves behind.

Carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide that is being released into the atmosphere by an individual, organization, service, or product. CO2 emission is a major problem and one of the major sources of CO2 emission is from the production plants of polymers. It is extremely important to initiate appropriate measures and technologies to reduce these dangerous emissions into the environment.

For every phase of a plastic’s life cycle, there are ways to reduce the emissions. For example, some studies say that using bio-based feedstocks will help reduce emissions in the refining stage. Other studies point out when developing solutions, it is important to think critically about the materials that will replace plastics. Some studies have found that the key to reducing global warming impact is to reuse plastic bags as many times as possible. However, the problem with reusing plastic bags is the quality and the material used for manufacturing the bag. Ultimately, reducing emissions associated with plastics may require- reducing waste, retaining materials by refurbishing or remanufacturing, and recycling.