Has been published Thursday, January 26, 2012 Next »

Three Themes of the PVC Debate…

Controversy usually accompanies discussions about when, how, or why polyvinyl chloride should or shouldn’t be used in various products, whether it’s packaging, medical products, or children’s toys. The disputes about PVC’s health and environmental impacts have matured and ripened over the years; it seems like the arguments for or against vinyl now all tend to connect to at least one of three main themes:


1.) Fixing the facts: Negative characteristics of PVC are well-publicized, and studies continue to be performed about the effects of PVC. Meanwhile, industry groups such as The Vinyl Institute are still quick to spotlight and correct exaggerations, distortions, and just plain misinformation from the critics of vinyl. Facts are facts, but this is like using a shovel to stop a landslide of negativity about PVC.


2.) Switching materials: Two recent Plastics News articles showed the slow but steady trend of packaging users moving from vinyl to non-vinyl materials. In one, toy-maker Hasbro reportedly will phase out vinyl from its core packaging (though not from its toys). This decision has the approval of giant retailer Wal-Mart, whose influence is driving more manufacturers to make these kinds of decisions.


In the medical arena, Kaiser Permanente will no longer purchase flexible vinyl I.V. bags or tubing that are plasticized with the phthalate DEHP, because of health concerns (though the company reportedly has not identified what phthalate-free materials it will accept instead). This move adds to the momentum of organizations like Greenpeace that have gone out of their way to position vinyl as the least-favored of all plastics.


3.) Hiding the vinyl: The terms “PVC” or “vinyl” have become marketing poison, making some marketers hesitant to provide clarity when PVC is a product constituent. For example, footwear-maker Okabashi specializes in plastic shoes, but when looking at its website you wouldn’t know that flexible vinyl appears to be its resin of choice. (The company, however, does make a big deal about its acceptance and recycling of used Okabashi sandals sent in by customers, while also emphasizing that its shoes are “vegan-friendly.”)


Meanwhile, tons of vinyl are being used every day in new building and constructions applications, many of which, like siding, are hidden in plain sight. Other PVC applications (like piping) are out of view behind walls, while still others, disguised as wood, sometimes lie literally right under the noses of people who object to PVC. For these applications, I guess out of sight is out of mind.


Mike Tolinski is the author of Plastics and Sustainability, published in Oct. 2011 by Wiley-Scrivener, and he is Contributing Editor for Plastics Engineering magazine of the Society of Plastics Engineers in the USA. His views have been shaped by his engineering, university, and journalism experience in the plastics and manufacturing industries over the past 21 years.

forum gif plastic_boom - Friday, January 27, 2012

PVC compound is ok, basically non-fossil fuesl feedstock & ethylene, which can be obtained from sugar (sugarcane ethanol). The problem with PVC is overloadeding with chemical additives, such as plasticizer called DEHP which can affect the human endocrine system.

forum jpg Mike Tolinski - Friday, January 27, 2012

Yes, it's often the additives in the compound -- 30% or more in flexible vinyl -- that have been the targets of criticism, isn't it? Thanks for the comment.

forum gif plastic_boom - Friday, January 27, 2012

thank you for your posts! maybe one will be about bio-based plasticizers...

forum jpg Mike Tolinski - Friday, January 27, 2012

Great suggestion -- strangely I was just thinking about doing that after reading your first comment -- hopefully will do so within the next couple months or sooner. thanx

forum gif plastic_boom - Friday, January 27, 2012

Great! So I look forward to your next post!

forum gif M Thornton - Monday, January 30, 2012

Great to see someone else talking about the facts behind PVC and products containing PVC rather than anything else that can normally be found in the press etc... a good resource for impartial information about PVC, and all other polymers, is here: http://www.iom3.org/content/pvc-committee-0

forum gif Ole Grøndahl Hansen, PVC Information Council DK - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Whether a shift away from the PVC material as such is advisable, as it is mentioned that Kaiser Permanente just have announced, is really the question. In the PVC industry we will really encourage Kaiser Permanente to think twice before they jump to such a drastic conclusion. There are several reasons for that: First of all, because PVC, for simple technical reasons, is the best plastic material to use in medical devices. Think about its non-kinking properties for example. A few years ago a hospital in Sweden decided to move away for medical tubing manufactured in PVC. Shortly thereafter they had to realize that they had to move back. The alternatives simply could not do the job!

And, secondly, today it is really a question whether the public health service is served with paying a higher price for alternatives to PVC when there is no evidence of the necessity of doing so. And last but not least, it also should be mentioned that just because you move away from PVC, you cannot be sure that you from an environmental point of view have a better material than the one you moved away from. To our knowledge, there has only been one lifecycle analysis performed that compares a PVC medical device with some alternatives. This analysis showed that PVC was proved superior seen in a life-cycle perspective.

forum jpg Mike Tolinski - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thanks for the comment and link, M Thornton -- I also noticed a link at your IOM3 link to their sponsored medical plastics exhibition at a medical museum (http://www.thackraymuseum.org/fantastic-plastic.html) -- and this relates to the next comment above.

forum jpg Mike Tolinski - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ole, thanks for the comment about the medical uses of PVC -- I thought it a problem that Kaiser Permanente did not report what their alternatives would be, since in some cases, an alternative would be very hard to find, as you indicate.

forum gif Stuart Yaniger - Thursday, February 2, 2012

Your comments about substitutes in medical applications are right on point. Just as the replacement of polycarbonate with BPA free plastics just substituted one estrogenic chemical for another, will the alternatives to vinyl compounds with DEHP have exactly the same issues of estrogenic activity? If we replace lead with cadmium (as an analogy), have we really fixed anything?

forum jpg Mike Tolinski - Thursday, February 2, 2012

I've sometimes seen new non-DEHP-type plasticizers promoted as not having the same bioreactivity as the questioned ones, but it's true that I haven't really heard of intense testing of these alternatives (some of them bio-based) for estrogenic or other activity -- something to dig into. thanks for the comment

forum gif TomEJo - Thursday, February 2, 2012

Yes, there is a "landslide of negativity" about PVC....but remember that the basic premise of Toxicology is "The poison is the dose"!

Just as chemophobes refuse to acknowledge this scientific fact, I think the plastics industry refuses to acknowledge the toxicity of the overwhelming public opinion against PVC.

Yes "estrogen mimic" plasticizers are at issue, but more to the point: Elimination of halide-based chemical production is at the heart of the Greenpeace initiative.

The antidotes suggested in this blog are indeed "shovels" against the landslide. The end game, to this "Technology Forcing" imperative" is development of new material(s) based on alternate technology.

The challenge is to press on with new technology, not dig in with those shovels!