Vinyl & the Environment


PVC building products have numerous energy and environmental benefits.  Since the late 1980s, more than 20 life-cycle evaluations have been completed on PVC building products, many of them comparing those products to similar products made of other materials.  PVC products were found to perform favorably in terms of energy efficiency, thermal-insulating value, low contribution to greenhouse gases and product durability, which means using fewer resources.


Energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. PVC saves energy and reduces CO2 emissions.  PVC takes less energy to produce than many competing products, and 20 percent less than other plastics.  PVC also saves fossil fuels.  Its principal raw material (nearly 60 percent) is chlorine derived from common salt.  PVC building products are highly energy-efficient.  For example:

* ENERGY STAR roofing membranes made of PVC reflect solar energy
* ENERGY STAR vinyl window frames conserve energy
* PVC pipe requires less energy to pump water
Durability.  PVC building products are highly durable, which conserves resources.  They will not rot or corrode like many other materials and do not need cleaning with harsh chemicals or frequent painting.

Recycling.  PVC is inherently recyclable.  More than 1 billion pounds are recycled annually (mostly post-industrial), according to a recent study.   Many carpet manufacturers using PVC backing have highly successful recycling programs, including C&A Floorcoverings (which has recycled more than 100 million pounds of vinyl backed carpet). 

Water savings.  2.3 trillion gallons of treated water are lost every year because of leaks from aging, corroded metal pipes. Because PVC pipes do not corrode and have among the lowest pipe breaks, they save precious water resources.

Life cycle analysis.  PVC’s impacts on the environment are comparable to or lower than most alternatives.  A 2004 study of environmental life-cycle analyses (LCAs) of PVC and competing building materials by the European Commission (EC) found that PVC offers environmental benefits equal to or better than those of other materials in many applications1.  The USGBC PVC Task Group reached similar conclusions in its draft report issued December 2004.

What about…

  • Dioxin?  PVC is an extremely small source of dioxin, so small that levels in the environment would be essentially unchanged even if vinyl were not being manufactured and used every day in important products.  The proof:  dioxin levels in the environment have been declining for decades, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  During this time, production and use of vinyl have soared.
  • Worker Safety?  OSHA statistics show that injury and illness rates among PVC workers are significantly less than the manufacturing average.  In the 1970s, industry scientists discovered that vinyl chloride, a chemical used to make PVC, could cause angiosarcoma, a rare form of liver cancer, in workers exposed at that time to very high doses.  This led to a complete overhaul of the PVC production process, which became essentially a closed loop, recycling wastes back into production and minimizing worker exposure.  The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued strict regulations in 1975, and there have been no documented cases of angiosarcoma among PVC production workers whose careers in the industry began after the new regulations were promulgated.
  • Indoor Air? Odors and "offgassing" from building products are generally due to dyes, adhesive, and additives.  Many building-product manufacturers today are working to reduce use of volatile chemicals and release of odors.  Resilient vinyl flooring that qualifies under the Resilient Floor Covering Institute’s FloorScore™ program can be certified to help obtain the Green Building Council's indoor air credit under the LEED rating system.  PVC-backed carpet can meet the comparable Green Label program of the Carpet & Rug Institute.

Vinyl Use in Building and Construction

Approximately 76 percent of PVC is used in building and construction applications2.  Please see the links at right for overviews of the major types of PVC building products and the reasons they are used.

PVC’s durability is an important environmental benefit, because the longer a product lasts, the less energy and other resources must be expended to make and install replacement products.  PVC also conserves energy in manufacture and more importantly in use.

Vinyl building and construction applications are typically divided into rigid and flexible categories.  The use of plasticizers differentiates flexible vinyl products from rigid.  Generally speaking, PVC materials would be classified as rigid when plasticizers have not been added to the resin, such as pipe, siding, windows, and fence, deck and rail.  PVC flooring, wallcovering and reflective roofing are classified as flexible, and are available in a multitude of styles and colors.
2 The Resin Review:  The Annual Statistical Report of the U.S. Plastics Industry, American Plastics Council 2002

Live! Web-Based Product Application Matrix for Sustainable Design Solutions
Finally, the completion of an innovative new tool that will enable architects, designers, specifiers, and other members of the design team to evaluate, compare, and discover the benefits of vinyl products in the current sustainable business marketplace.

Vinyl Meeting Today's and Tomorrow's Indoor Air Quality Requirements
Research has shown that vinyl is well suited to indoor air criteria as defined in current standards and “green” building guidelines.

Energy-Saving PVC Water Barriers Protect Against Floods, Fires and Hazmat Spills
Tough, portable reusable PVC water barriers have become a valuable new tool in fighting emergencies ranging from floods to hazmat spills to frest fires.

How Vinyl Saves Energy, Water and Reduces Greenhouse Emissions
Since the first Earth Day in 1970, vinyl has played an ever-increasing role in helping Americans save energy, save water and reduce greenhouse gas emssions.

What Makes a Product "Green"?
What makes a product "green"? This was one of the challenging topics at the National Association of Home Builders" Green Conference held recently. And it is the subject of a lot of misinformation, according to speaker Judith Nordgren, director of industry affairs of the Vinyl Institute.

PVC Pipe and Fittings
Pipes and fittings comprise the largest portion (44 percent) of PVC usage for building and construction.

Vinyl Siding and Exterior Accessories
Vinyl siding is the second largest use of vinyl accounting for approximately 15 percent of vinyl resin.

Vinyl Windows and Glass Doors
Vinyl windows and doors, the third largest application for PVC, has grown dramatically in recent years.

Vinyl Flooring
Because of its durability, vinyl flooring does not require replacement as often as many other types of flooring.

Vinyl Fencing, Decking, Railing and Other Outdoor Living Products
Vinyl outdoor living products do not require replacement as often as other outdoor building materials, thanks to vinyl's durability and aesthetics.

Vinyl Coated Wire and Cable
All wire and cable products are required to meet a set of application specific performance standards.

Vinyl Roofing
Many PVC vinyl roofing membranes have been recognized by the ENERGY STAR Roof Products Program of the U.S. EPA and the U.S. DOE for their energy savings performance.

Vinyl Wallcoverings
According to the Chemical Fabrics and Film Association, the energy required to manufacture vinyl wallcoverings is only half as much as the amount needed to produce the same amount of paper wallcoverings.

Recycling & Disposal Issues
PVC's inherent durability allows PVC vinyl products to service long useful lives, preventing the waste generated when less durable products are used.

Data Submission to U.S. Green Building Council's PVC Task Group
The Vinyl Institute submitted data to the U.S. Green Building Council's PVC Task Group detailing the safe production of PVC and the contributions vinyl building products make to energy efficiency.

Energy & Environmental Performance
The performance of vinyl products offers environmental benefits.

Raw Materials & Manufacturing
Unlike other plastics, vinyl is more than 50 percent derived from salt, a plentiful resource.

Vinyl & Indoor Air Quality

Fire Performance
Vinyl has excellent fire properties.

Life Cycle Assessment




Dioxin Sources in the United States

European Commission Life Cycle Assessment of PVC and Principal Completing Materials