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5 myths about PVC debunked

Climate change and human impact on our planet’s ecosystems have – quite rightly – become big news over the past decade.  

In the face of damning scientific evidence, there’s growing pressure on the economies that have contributed the most to environmental damage, to take steps to clean up their act.  At the same time, we’re all becoming more aware of the potential impact of our environment on our health.

As a result, organizations all over the world – including the healthcare sector – are paying much more attention to the quality and sustainability of their interiors.  From design to materials, they’re looking for ways to create spaces that are better for the health of both people and the planet, by making healthier, more sustainable choices. 

The trouble is, there are still lots of misconceptions about what sustainability really looks like, and lots of pros and cons to be weighed when it comes to making planet-friendly choices that are also practical for 21st century life.  

There’s a mindset that natural equals good, while man-made equals bad for the planet – but this isn’t always the case.  

As an example, we’re often asked about the environmental and health credentials of our PVC wall protection.  As a man-made plastic compound, PVC gets a pretty bad rap – but as we’re about to explain, it’s not all black and white!

Here are five common myths about PVC’s impact on people and the planet, debunked:

Myth 1: Alternatives to PVC are greener

We’ll be frank by saying that almost all plastics are derived from petrochemicals and therefore have a less-than-optimal environmental impact. But when you look at the alternatives to PVC, which in the case of wall protection are materials like aluminum, stainless steel and FRP, you’ll find that the carbon footprint of producing PVC is actually significantly lower.  The PVC manufacturing process itself doesn’t require a great deal of energy, and the finished product is much more lightweight than the alternatives, which reduces emissions associated with freight shipping.  Additionally, PVC is an inert material that doesn’t off-gas or leach chemicals into the environment, even when cut, damaged or wet.  It also lasts much longer than other materials.

Myth 2: PVC can’t be recycled

Probably the biggest myth of all, and completely untrue!  PVC can be recycled easily and effectively as long as it is not mixed with other thermoplastics – so in the case of solid PVC wall sheeting, the scraps and the end product can be completely recycled multiple times without losing quality.  Obviously, PVC has a long life cycle – that’s one of the reasons it’s a great material for use in high-traffic environments like healthcare.  This means that products made from virgin or recycled PVC have a lifespan of many decades, further increasing the sustainability of this material.  It’s often used to manufacture things like park benches, speed humps, kitchenware and outdoor furniture.

Myth 3: PVC is toxic

A common myth about PVC is that it emits cancer-causing chemicals called dioxins.  This myth began in the 1970s when it was discovered that a reaction between the chlorines and graphite anodes used in PVC manufacturing could release dioxins.  Consequently, graphite anodes were phased out and since then, dioxin emissions have dropped by 90% while PVC production has increased threefold.  Once manufactured, PVC is inert and does not emit any chemicals.  Dioxins CAN be released when PVC (and many other substances) are incinerated improperly.  This can be prevented by ensuring appropriate, complete combustion of waste containing PVC – or of course, by recycling it instead!

Myth 4: The chlorine in PVC is dangerous

It’s true that chlorine gas is one of the most toxic substances known to man.  But chlorine gas is not directly used in the manufacturing process for PVC – it’s used to make a substance called ethylene chloride, which is used to make vinyl chloride, which is used to make PVC.  You cannot obtain chlorine gas from PVC.  The chlorine present in PVC is no more dangerous than the chlorine added to drinking water during purification, or to your local swimming pool. PVC surfaces and objects are perfectly safe to use within the built environment.

Myth 5: PVC is highly flammable

In fact, the reverse is true. While some plastics are flammable, vinyl-based plastics are shown to be naturally flame retardant and self-extinguishing when the source of flame is removed. PVC radiates less heat during combustion than other materials, and generates less smoke, thereby reducing the risk to people in the event of a fire.  Our PVC wall protection products are compliant with all the relevant Canadian fire safety legislation applicable in public and healthcare buildings.

When you weigh up the options, it’s clear that PVC wall cladding – carefully chosen, properly maintained and appropriately recycled at the end of its lifespan – is a safe and sustainable choice for healthcare buildings.  Get in touch today to discuss your requirements!