PVC is one of the most widely used plastics in the world. Because it is so versatile, PVC is used extensively in a broad range of industrial, technical and everyday applications. PVC is intrinsically a ‘low-carbon’ plastic (57% of its molecular weight is chlorine, derived from common salt, 5% is hydrogen and 38% is carbon, compared for example to more than 80 % in most other thermoplastics, and PVC consumes less primary energy in the manufacturing phase than other commonly used plastics. There are several intrinsic benefits that PVC as a material brings, but of course, as any material and human activity, it has a carbon footprint and an impact on the environment.
Through the VinylPlus initiative, the European PVC industry seeks to progressively reduce GHG emissions along the entire production chain: identifying and measuring the GHG footprint of all components and production processes; establishing GHG reduction targets; endeavouring to increase use of renewable energy and of technologies enhancing the efficiency of materials used; and implementing these engagements with business partners and stakeholders.
Initiatives, in this sense, are already in place including, for example, the target of a 20% reduction, by 2020, of the energy consumption for PVC resin production (-10.2% to date); the definition of a new methodology called ‘EPDplus’ to evaluate the use of substances utilised as additives in PVC products from the perspective of sustainable development which integrates the current standard Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) with The Natural Step’s (TNS) criteria for sustainability; the assessment study on the feasibility of PVC resin production with ethylene from biomasses, thus decoupling plastic production from oil consumption.
“VinylPlus can be considered as a flagship for the circular economy” said Gwenole Cozigou, the European Union’s Director of DG Growth, at the Vinyl Sustainability Forum 2015. The European PVC industry is managing waste streams with a controlled-loop approach, and although there is still work to do in this area to reach VinylPlus’ target of 800.000 tonnes of PVC recycled per year by 2020, PVC recycling is becoming an economically viable business. In 2014, the amount of end-of-life PVC recycled within the VinylPlus framework was 481.000 tonnes, equivalent to around 20% of the total waste arising from PVC, based on a 2013 estimate by the German market research company Consultic.
Using recycled PVC helps meet resource-efficiency targets and allows the preservation of natural resources. It has been calculated that CO2 savings of up to 92% are achieved when PVC is recycled: recycled PVC’s primary energy demand is typically between 45% to 90% lower than virgin PVC production (depending on type of PVC and the recycling process). Furthermore, according to a conservative estimation, for each kg of PVC recycled, 2 kg of CO2 are saved. On this basis, CO2 savings from PVC recycling in Europe is now at around 1 million tonnes of CO2 saved per year.
In addition, according to a study by TAUW, an independent European consulting and engineering company, one employee, on average, is needed to recycle 500 tonnes/year of PVC. Hence the 481.000 tonnes of PVC recycled in 2014 contributed to the creation of about 1,000 direct jobs in recycling plants.