Many objects in our most everyday environment are made with polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC, a type of thermoplastic that does not make good friends with the planet.
It is a synthetic material, very versatile and recyclable, with very different applications once recycled. However, these last characteristics do not make it an ecological product. When it comes to PVC, other issues need to be taken into consideration. Why is PVC toxic and polluting ?
- An environmental poison
- Is it also toxic?
- Some eco advantages of PVC
- Dangerous throughout its life cycle
An environmental poison
It is not ecological, at least, in the broad sense of the word, as there are many characteristics in it that indicate the opposite. Without going any further, the composition and manufacturing process of this plastic product, one of the most used in the world, is tremendously harmful to the environment . Among other issues, having chlorine in its composition is a polluting material both during its production and during its use and when it burns.
Basically, it can be considered an environmental poison, since it forms organochlorine substances when burned , emitting dioxins that they take out into the environment. Therefore, it is highly toxic to the environment. In turn, food use is another of the most controversial uses.
Specifically, food packaging made of PVC (let’s avoid type 3, corresponding to PVC, which may contain phthlates), end up diverting it to drinks or food in very small doses of chemicals that bioaccumulate in the body and act as endocrine disruptors, by time they have been associated with fetal malformations and serious diseases such as cancer.
In fact, some types of PVC can release bisphenol A, with associated health risks . We will find PVC in water bottles (most are made with PET 1, and do not contain it), oils, vinegar, wine or, for example, juices, as well as in film-film to preserve food, among others.
Is it also toxic?
There are numerous studies that attribute to PVC a worrying toxicity. According to a study by The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), it is responsible for many types of cancer and birth defects . Many companies have considered reducing its use, and even eliminating it from production processes, although its use remains tremendous.
Some eco advantages of PVC
As not everything is black or white, as we have advanced mentioning its recycling, PVC is also characterized by a series of green aspects. For example, since it is a very commonly used construction material, let’s focus on the case of windows made of this material.
As is well known, windows or doors made of this material achieve greater thermal insulation than other commonly used ones, such as aluminum. And this means significant savings in heating and air conditioning, both of which are related to lower energy consumption and, therefore, to a lighter carbon footprint.
However, since heavy and carcinogenic metals are used for its manufacture, including cadmium, both this and its degradation – once it becomes waste, especially if it ends up in a landfill and is incinerated -, it is an environmental drama , not exempt from toxicity.
Modern formulations, following the example, also have greater durability than just a few years ago, another interesting factor if we are looking for sustainability. However, before taking into account its positive aspects at the environmental level – whether it is recyclable, its durability or its contribution to emitting a lower carbon footprint, for example – the damage that PVC implies, its real dangers and the risk to the health of the planet and of the human being related to its manufacture and use, since it is a massive use all over the world.
On the other hand, durability is actually relative, and even lower than that provided by wood. Reports from the international conservation association WWF conclude that these are between 14 and 25 percent less expensive than PVC when considering their useful life, longer in the case of wood.
Dangerous throughout its life cycle
Even considering its green advantages, the truth is that the balance plate tilts to the opposite side . According to the CHEJ, “PVC is dangerous to humans and the entire ecosystem throughout its life cycle, from factory, use, to disposal.”
The organization places particular emphasis on its unhealthy:
“Our bodies are contaminated by additive chemical particles, mercury and toxic phthalates (…) that can cause irreversible damage. When produced or burned, PVC releases dioxins, a group of chemicals that can cause cancer, attack the system immune and reproductive system. ”
Not even the fact that recycling is possible, and increasingly common, are entirely positive aspects. On the one hand, whenever it is recycled, it stops polluting the environment directly, and with regard to plastics this is always good news. However, according to the same body, “PVC cannot be recycled effectively”, since the additives used in the manufacturing process to make it durable and flexible contaminate the entire process. And there is an illuminating example that the CHEJ also serves us on a tray when it states that “a PVC bottle can contaminate a recycling process the same as 100,000 PET bottles.”
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