PVC – the building plastic

Polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl or simply PVC, is the third-most produced plastic in the world. In Europe, 5.9 million tonnes are manufactured each year. Due to a combination of extreme versatility, unique technical properties, recyclability and affordability, PVC is used for an endless variety of applications from life-saving blood bags and other medical devices over sports equipment and high-speed fiber cables. Yet PVC is primarily a building material: 70% of all PVC produced in Europe goes into windows, pipes, flooring, roofing membranes and other building products. In fact, PVC is by far the leading plastic in the European building and construction market.

How big are the PVC industry and the pipe industry in Europe and in the world?

In 2017, the European PVC business sector represented:

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21,000

companies, resin manufacturers, additive producers, equipment manufacturers, converters, recyclers etc.
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500,000

jobs
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€80 billion

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1.0 million tonnes of pipes and fittings

out of 5.9 million tonnes PVC resin produced each year

To the moon and back

‘Pipes and fittings’ is the second-largest PVC application market, for which 22% – or around 1 million tonnes – of PVC produced in Europe is used. Durability, superior long-term stiffness and high strength to weight ratio are some of the key reasons to use PVC for pipes. Examples of PVC piping applications are water supply, sewage and underground drainage, rainwater systems, hot and cold water applications, and industrial piping networks. PVC pipes are usually divided into three categories, each with their own technical advantages: PVC-U (unplasticised), PVC-O (molecular oriented) and PVC-C (chlorinated). Fun fact: if all the annual European PVC pipe tonnage was converted into a 110 mm drain pipe at 1.7 kg/m, it would equal to 735,294 km, which is the distance to the moon and back.
pvc pipes moon and back building plastic

800-year material life

PVC products in general and pipes in particular are very well suited to be part of a sustainable future. The plastic has always been regarded as a low-carbon polymer, made from 57% common salt and only 43% oil or natural gas – far less than other thermoplastics. Moreover, research is ongoing to replace the carbon with non-fossil resources. PVC’s recyclability is also unmatched: studies show that a PVC pipe can be recycled up to 8 times without losing its technical properties and without adding new material. With an expected service life of 100 years or more for underground PVC pipes, that is equal to 800 years of material life!

A voluntary commitment to sustainable development

The Circular Economy, sustainable development and resource-efficiency are three concepts that are not new to the European PVC, and that are at the top of its agenda. For two decades, VinylPlus®, the Voluntary Commitment to sustainable development of the European PVC industry, has been a key contributor to the Circular Economy by ensuring continuous growth in the recycling of PVC. Since 2000, more than 4.2 million tonnes of PVC have been recycled cumulatively within the VinylPlus framework. The results are substantial: as each kg of recycled PVC prevents 2 kgs of CO2 from being emitted into our atmosphere, VinylPlus’ recycling activities since 2000 have saved over 8,000,000 tonnes of CO2! PVC recycling also contributes to creating green European jobs, and energy and resource savings.