It is essential that all building materials are subjected to environmental scrutiny. We are in the process of learning that products with high direct or indirect environment costs cannot be ‘economical’.
However, assessments are not easy in practice. An ecological comparison can only be made if all factors i.e. manufacture, processing, transporting, application and disposal are taken as a whole. In all of these areas, energy requirements impact on the environment, disposal as well as possible and already practiced recycling has to be weighed up.
An ‘ecological balance sheet’ such as this is difficult to draw up and as yet, is hardly available. However, a start has been made and useful figures are available, even for uPVC. These show that the energy requirements for the production of uPVC are very much lower that those for most other plastics and lower than for steel and aluminium.
The lower processing temperatures (170-200 degrees Celsius) mean lower energy requirements than the competitive products. Furthermore, there is no lost material as all waste goes back into the process. Not only does the actual production process create less energy, but long term uPVC will outlast timber and aluminium in terms of ‘life expectancy’, thereby eliminating the need for additional energy requirements as a result of replacing warped timber or corroded aluminium windows.
Once the uPVC has undergone the extrusion process, it requires no further surface treatment (unlike powdercoated aluminium of painted timber).
In terms of disposal, uPVC is environmentally neutral on the waste tip and is well suited for reclamation as an energy source or to be re-processed as a raw material. Due to impregnation and colour coatings little recycling is possible with aluminium and virtually none with wood. Wood may be the only material which is provided by nature but even she cannot keep up with the amounts required.
All these important things considered, the arguments in favour of uPVC today, will become even more important in the future. For further technical information of the impacts of uPVC on the environment, please download this document.