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HPM August 2013

Got a story? Ring us on 01732 748041 or e-mail twood@unity-media.com SUSTAINABILITY&WATERSAVING Time to stop bad mouthing PVC PVC hasn’t exactly had the greatest press when it comes to its green credentials. Steve Dunkley, sales director at Hunter Plastics, believes a lot of the stick it gets is unfounded, unfair and some of it downright untrue and highlights the environmental impact of PVC as a building material... PVC is not as bad as some of the more extreme claims would have you believe. It is, after all, simply a long lasting building material, not the root of all evil. And like all construction waste of whatever origin, once it has come to the end of its life, it should be recycled in the correct manner. Before examining the environmental impact of PVC, it’s worth remembering that every single building material has some environmental impact, whether it is mined, quarried or extracted. Its production, transportation, installation, maintenance, or disposal all have an environmental price - whether it is plastic, concrete, clay or metal (in the case of pipework.) PVC raw material is produced in a sealed environment using relatively little energy compared to other materials used in construction. In fact, because 57% of the basic PVC molecule is chlorine, produced by the electrolysis of a saline solution. Given salt is not a scarce resource, PVC has a resource consumption advantage over other polymers. DANGEROUS CHEMICALS The scaremongering about the dangerous chemicals in PVC - lead, dioxins and phthalates - has been something of a smokescreen in the UK construction industry with the real facts shrouded in mystery. In fact, since its introduction, PVC has been manufactured using a number of additives to create the properties that the construction industry needs. But these have changed as technology has advanced. In the 1990s lead was clearly identified as a potential health hazard if consumed or if there was over-exposure. Up until 2007, lead was used in small quantities as a stabilising agent in PVC compounds in the UK. At that time the plastics industry across Europe acted to remove lead from PVC production. This was achieved before the industry’s voluntary commitment to remove lead by 2010. Hunter does not use any lead in its production. Post-use PVC when recycled will contain lead, but not in a form which is hazardous to health. There have been claims that PVC increases the levels of dioxins in the atmosphere. This has now been proven to not be the case. In fact, dioxins can be produced by many natural and artificial processes - like domestic heating and smoking. All research carried out since 1970 shows that dioxin levels have decreased by 50% even though WWW.HPMMAG.COM PVC production in that period has doubled. Often wrongly discussed in anti PVC for construction arguments, Phthalates are ‘plasticisers’ - chemicals that make plastics softer - such as those used in flexible bottles. They are not used in the production of PVC building products. Not only do plastics pipes use less energy to produce than concrete or iron, their ongoing environmental costs are also considerably less. Firstly, they are fast to install, reducing site occupation times. Finished PVC products used in construction have more than 40 years useful life, reducing the frequency of replacement compared to other materials and during these 40 years remain virtually maintenance free. Since PVC is such a lightweight material it saves considerably on transport costs and emissions in the building industry. 56 AUGUST 2013 HEATING & PLUMBING MONTHLY Furthermore, the replacement of Victorian pipes in London, with new plastic pipes, reduces leaks and saves significant amounts of water with consequent savings in the energy required to process and pump the water. The thermal properties of PVC are positively beneficial in buildings. The British Plastics Federation estimates that if all buildings in Europe were to the optimal standards it would save 460 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. Over its long life span, plastic building components require little or no maintenance. For example, a PVC downpipe does not require painting, unlike a metal equivalent. This not only reduces the amount of chemicals used, it also expends less energy in their transport and application. Unlike many other building materials, all plastics can be recycled many times without substantial loss of integrity and structure. Schemes are now in place to make this happen as PVC products that were first installed in the 1960s are now reaching the end of their lives and becoming available for recycling LOGISTICAL FACTORS However, the extent to which they are recycled depends upon both economical and logistical factors. As a valuable and finite resource, the optimum use for most plastic after its first use is to be recycled, preferably into a product that can be recycled again. Of the five million tonnes of plastics used each year in the UK, construction uses about a quarter of the total. About 19% is currently being recovered or recycled. This figure is expected to increase significantly over the coming years. The impact of this massive recycling effort cannot be underestimated. In 2006, 684,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions were saved by recycling plastics in the UK, the equivalent of taking more than 216,000 cars off the road. PVC that cannot be recycled remains inert in landfill, so there are no environmental dangers. Hunter, and all of the other responsible plastics companies in the UK, has a strong commitment to actively responding to the misleading arguments about PVC out in the marketplace. enquiry number 141 Hunter Plastics produces lightweight PVC granules that save on both transport costs and emissions


HPM August 2013
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