uPVC (or vinyl) is the leading plastic material for the construction market, where it makes products like electric cable insulation, pipe, flooring, windows and house siding more durable and cost-effective. uPVC requires less maintenance, frequently outlasts competitive materials and often outperforms them, making quality housing more affordable. uPVC piping systems economically and reliably deliver pure water to even the most remote locations; uPVC irrigation pipe helps increase crop yields; uPVC sewer pipe helps ensure the integrity of waste water handling systems.
90% of uPVC applications are designed for medium or long-term use. uPVC is resistant to weathering, chemical rotting, corrosion, shock and abrasion. The Water Services Association of Australia’s Sewer Drain Code gives uPVC pipe a Category A rating, signifying a life expectancy of over 100 years. In other applications such as window profiles and cable insulation, studies indicate that over 60 per cent of them will have working lives of over 40 years.
uPVC has a lower feedstock energy, especially compared to other polymers and common building materials. It is the least energy intensive of all thermoplastics. uPVC resin manufacturing in Australia has achieved considerable energy savings over the last six years and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
More than 50% of the uPVC material comes from salt, a plentiful and renewable resource. It is the salt from which the chlorine in uPVC is derived. The remaining 43 percent of uPVC comes from petroleum, which means that uPVC consumes proportionally less non-renewable resources than other polymers and some common building materials.
Vinyl products, such as flooring, wall coverings and windows, require very little maintenance over their lifespan – a benefit both environmentally and economically. uPVC windows and cladding, for example, do not require painting, thereby reducing potential emissions. Vinyl flooring requires less cleaning and less use of chemicals than comparable materials.
Nearly 9,000 tonnes of uPVC was recycled in Australia in 2003. Three quarters of this was sourced from durable uPVC waste, mainly used electrical cable scrap, piping and conduit and postindustrial scrap. The vinyl industry is working with the building and construction sector to establish programs for collection and recycling of uPVC building wastes. uPVC products available with recycled content include: commercial floor tiles; stormwater pipe and fittings; plumbing DWV pipe; conduit and roadside guideposts. At the end of a uPVC product’s useful life, if it is not feasible to recycle it, it can be safely incinerated or deposited in landfill. As uPVC are fairly new in Australia they are not at the end of their life yet so no recycling program exists yet but in Europe this is a very active market with all uPVC producers incorporating old windows into their new ones.
Additives used in uPVC are regulated by a number of agencies including Australian Standards and the State Environmental Protection Agencies. The use of lead-based stabilisers in some applications is considered safe because the lead is tightly bound into the polymer matrix and does not migrate. uPVC is not considered to add significantly to lead in the environment, yet the industry has decided to phase out the use of lead stabilisers in Australia by 2010 under its Product Stewardship Commitment. The use of cadmium stabilisers by Signatories to the Product Stewardship Commitment has already ceased.
Research and studies of real fires continue to indicate that carbon monoxide – produced by virtually anything that burns – is the primary cause of fire deaths, and early detection and suppression of fires are the key to reducing death rates further. uPVC is inherently flame-retardant due to its chlorine base, it does not readily ignite, and most uPVC products will not continue to burn once a flame source is removed. The products of uPVC combustion are no more hazardous than those produced by other common materials, both natural and synthetic.