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Disposing of PVC

Home | Disposing of PVC

The world is facing a waste crisis from the most problematic plastic produced today: polyvinylchloride or PVC, commonly called vinyl. For years throw-away products made of PVC have been a leading cause of dioxin in incinerators and when burned in fires. As more PVC is being disposed of we are now seeing the first stages of an impending PVC waste mountain with no safe way to dispose of it and with little hope it will be recycled.

World production of PVC today is at more than 20 million tonnes per year - up from 3 million tonnes in 1965 - which corresponds to about one fifth of the total plastic production. PVC products reached significant market share in the 1960's. Considering lifespans of about 30 years and more, a significant increase of PVC waste quantities is expected to start around 2010. The trouble is, there is no safe way to deal with this inherently hazardous waste material.

The Myth of PVC Recycling
In 2000 the European Commission commissioned a report to investigate the implications of PVC in the waste stream. The Green Paper (see resources) noted the following:
  • Mechanical Recycling of post-consumer waste is still at a low level in the EU and the quantities recycled represent less than 3% of the total . A major part of the post-consumer PVC waste recycling (about 70%) is down-cycling in the area of cable wastes and packaging waste.
  • The presence of additives classified as hazardous, such as lead, cadmium and PCBs, in large PVC waste streams raises specific issues during their potential recycling.
  • PVC can have a negative influence on the recycling of other plastics in mixed plastic waste because of the lower processing temperature. Due to similar densities, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and PVC waste are difficult to separate and the presence of PVC puts additional costs on some PET recycling schemes such as the PET bottles.
  • Post-consumer PVC mechanical waste recycling is far from reaching economic competitiveness. In addition to the establishment of recycling schemes with a broad regional coverage, financial incentives are necessary for a separate collection of PVC wastes.
  • The conclusion of the European Commission’s paper is that “about 9% of the total PVC waste could be mechanically recycled in 2010 and 2020,”

An examination of the potential for Chemical recycling shows low success rate as well:

  • “Chemical recycling has a potential mostly for those wastes for which mechanical recycling is not an option, and when legal or other instruments are effective in steering the waste away from the most cost-effective competitors (such as cement kilns, municipal solid waste incinerators and landfill).
  • For 2010, the total PVC waste quantities, which could be chemically recycled in the baseline scenario, are about 80,000 tonnes as a fraction in mixed plastics waste with low chlorine content (mostly from packaging) and about 160.000 tonnes in mixed plastics fractions with higher PVC content, mostly from automotive and electric and electronic waste.”
The Environmental Issues of PVC - hits:4811 | Last modified: September 10 2005 | opens in new window
This report (2000) prepared by the European Union addresses the impending PVC waste problem in the EU, the low potential for mechanical recycling and the waste generated from PVC incineration.
Dangers of Incinerating PVC
The same European Commission study found:
  • “PVC waste contributes between 38% and 66% of the chlorine content in waste streams being incinerated. The other main sources of chlorine are putrescibles (about 17%) and paper (10%). On average it can be estimated that about 50% of the chlorine input into the incinerators are due to the presence of PVC.”
  • An assessment of the quantities of flue gas cleaning residues resulting from the incineration of PVC waste concluded that the incineration of 1kg of PVC generates on average between 1 and 1.4 kg of residues.

Incineration, therefore, produces just as much contaminated ash residue -- which then needs to be landfilled -- as the amount of PVC put into an incinerator to be ‘destroyed’
This is on top of the problems associated with dioxin generation.

The Environmental Issues of PVC - hits:4811 | Last modified: September 10 2005 | opens in new window
This report (2000) prepared by the European Union addresses the impending PVC waste problem in the EU, the low potential for mechanical recycling and the waste generated from PVC incineration.
In-Depth Reports
PVC The Looming Waste Crisis - hits:3226 | Last modified: September 11 2005 | opens in new window
by W Van der Naald and B Thorpe (1998) Examines the extent of the impending PVC waste mountain and the lack of responsible and safe solutions.
Messsage In A Bottle - hits:3646 | Last modified: September 10 2005
The Impacts of PVC on plastic recycling By P Anderson. This report details how PVC hinders plastic bottle recycling.
PVC: Bad News Comes in 3's - hits:5509 | Last modified: September 09 2005
This report gives an overview of the health hazards of PVC and the looming PVC waste crisis facing the USA today. M Belliveau and S Lester (2005)
Other Resources
The European Commission has a website on PVC studies - hits:5021 | Last modified: September 10 2005 | opens in new window
The Vinyl Institute - hits:3395 | Last modified: September 16 2005
PVC Waste and Recycling: Solving a Problem or Selling a Poison? - hits:3752 | Last modified: September 10 2005
   
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