PVC pipes are toxic
This statement usually comes from the view that PVC itself is toxic. This is not true, as PVC resin (a white powder) is inert and non-toxic. Other components of PVC pipes, like the fillers (usually powdered chalk) are also inert and non-toxic. Heat stabilisers based on lead salts have been used in the past to make PVC pipes and whilst these are toxic, once they have been incorporated into the finished pipe or fitting, they are locked inside the matrix and do not leak out. These lead-based stabilisers are being phased out and replaced with calcium-based stabilisers. For more information, go to Vinyl Plus.
PVC pipes are a burden on the environment
PVC is made up of 57% chlorine and 43% carbon + hydrogen atoms; the carbon and hydrogen come from natural gas or oil, whereas the chlorine comes from common salt which is abundantly available in the earth’s crust and in our seas. So making PVC uses less of our fossil fuel resources than any other thermoplastic. Studies have shown that making PVC and turning it into pipes has a similar or smaller impact on the environment as does making pipes of other materials, like clay, concrete or metal. Furthermore, once they are installed, PVC pipes will need no service whatsoever, nor will they corrode which guarantees the recovery and protection of the environment for many decades. Chlorine is a co-product of the manufacture of sodium hydroxide, which is required for the manufacture of things like soaps and detergents, paper, aluminium and textiles. Chlorine itself is used in the production of pharmaceuticals and used for making our drinking water safe. When included in the PVC molecule, it is very stable and gives PVC excellent properties like fire retardancy and resistance to bacterial growth.
PVC pipes cannot be recycled
PVC pipes can be and are being recycled. At the present time the quantities involved are small (~ 60,000 tonnes in 2011), because most of the pipes are still in service underground. Nevertheless, the technology is in place and is being used for the recycling of PVC pipes.
PVC piping systems break under pressure
PVC pipes will not break under pressure provided they have been made, installed and commissioned in line with the manufacturers’ recommendations (and any European Standards that apply) and they are not subjected to pressures or loads which exceed their performance rating. Like pipes made using any other material, PVC pipes will break if they are misused or abused. See the list of Standards on our web site.
PVC piping systems are expensive
The processes for making PVC resin and converting it into PVC piping systems have been developed and refined over the last 70 years so that the products used both under- and above-ground are very cost competitive in the wider market for pipes. If they were ‘expensive’, i.e. not cost-effective, they would not keep their position in the pipe market.
PVC piping systems have never changed during the last decades
Whilst it is true that PVC pipes were first brought to the market over 70 years ago, there have been numerous innovations in their design and production processes since then. Examples of design include ribbed, corrugated and foam-core drainage pipes, which have saved up to 40% in raw materials use. Others include impact-modified and oriented PVC pressure pipes which have allowed PVC pipes to compete successfully in the water pipe market. These innovations have resulted in improved environmental performance, because less of the resources of Mother Earth are used to arrive at the same solution and properties are improved at the same time. Innovations continue in production and installation methods which will allow pipes to be installed without the need to dig trenches, reducing further the environmental impact of PVC pipes.
PVC piping systems disintegrate under influence of the weather
Provided they have been designed for use outdoors, PVC pipes and fittings will withstand exposure to the elements for many years. Studies have shown rainwater gutters to be essentially unaffected after 25 years of service. It is true that some discolouration of the surface may take place after a number of years in service, but only a layer less than one-tenth of a millimetre thick is affected. Beneath this the material keeps its original structure and properties. Compared with other plastics, PVC has outstanding weathering resistance.
PVC piping systems are produced by environmentally unfriendly chemical processes
Like many other materials, the manufacture of PVC involves the use of potentially hazardous chemicals. Such manufacturing methods are very closely regulated. Today, PVC is probably the world’s most researched plastic/polymer. Extremely strict guidelines govern PVC manufacture and workers’ exposure. Studies have shown that making PVC and turning it into pipes has a similar or smaller impact on the environment as does making pipes of other materials, like clay, concrete or metal.
PVC piping systems increase the global waste mountain
The production processes for making PVC piping systems have been developed over the years so that they are now very efficient. Materials efficiencies of more than 98% are achieved routinely by good manufacturers. Once installed, PVC pipe systems will remain in service for 50 to 100 years and maybe even longer. At the end of life they can be recovered and recycled back into new PVC pipes. So their contribution to the ‘global waste mountain’ is tiny, especially when compared to short life products, such as packaging.
PVC piping systems will be in the eco system forever
The high durability and long service lives of PVC pipes and fittings guarantee that they will be ‘in the eco system’ for a very long time. But they will be performing their designated jobs during this time; not harming the eco system as is suggested by the statement above.
PVC piping systems are invented just because we can, not because of their benefits
PVC pipes were developed to take the place of other products, such as pitch impregnated paper pipes which had very short service lives, or which broke in service due to ground movements – like clay pipes. They were developed to serve many purposes and have been successful because they have succeeded in doing this in spite of strong competition from pipes made from other materials. So we don’t use them ‘just because we can’.