Taking a deeper look at PVC and debunking some of the ongoing myths surrounding this material used in flooring.
With more than 50 years’ experience in the local and international flooring industry, Denver Coleman, Chairman of Polyflor SA, answers questions posed by installers, architects and readers. In this issue, he discusses the role of PVC in the flooring industry and breaks down some negative connotations PVC has with regard to the environment.
“As an architect, I’ve had an increasing number of requests from my clients for vinyl flooring products. Whilst I agree that this floorcovering offers the aesthetic value, easy maintenance and longevity, I’m concerned about its green credentials”. Sam Pringle, Somerset West.
When the issue of “green credentials” first raised its head in the construction industry a few years ago, PVC was branded as one of the “bad guys”. Since then, however, the PVC industry has managed to completely reverse this perception by cleaning up PVC production dramatically and educating environmental bodies about the misconceptions around the product in general.
Today, reputable PVC manufacturers have removed heavy metals and other harmful ingredients from their production and enjoy approval from major environmental bodies.
Despite these improvements and impressive credentials, many specifiers, clients and the general public still seem to be opposed to the use of PVC and are unaware of the recent advancements made. In an effort to set the record straight, I will attempt to give you a brief but thorough explanation of why PVC is no longer a concern and why it is now such a favourable product.
Polyvinylchloride (PVC) consists of 57% salt (a naturally occurring and sustainable resource) and 43% oil (ethylene) which can be derived from various sources. PVC manufacture accounts for only 0.3% of the world’s oil consumption. Added to this is calcium carbonate (chalk) of which there is an abundance in the earth’s crust.
Traditionally, formaldehyde as well as certain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium were included in the manufacturing process, but these harmful materials have been completely phased out.
Another point of debate is the use of plasticisers that are added to flooring to enhance performance characteristics. The most commonly used plasticiser in flooring is known as a phthalate. Due to their widespread use, phthalates have undergone extensive testing for possible health and environmental effects and are by far the most widely researched of all chemical substances. Based on all this research, PVC flooring is now either manufactured using high phthalates or ortho-phthalates (aka phthalate-free), which have all been confirmed not to pose any risk to human health or the environment.
However, it is important to not only make a decision on the environmental performance of a product simply based on the composition of its raw materials, but to take into account its full lifecycle analysis.
Vinyl flooring is exceptionally energy-efficient to manufacture. In fact, it uses 15% less energy than linoleum and 50% less than ceramic flooring. Due to its incredible durability, it has a long service life and greatly reduces short-term replacements and subsequent energy consumption. Many manufacturers are using PUR coatings and produce “easy maintenance” flooring, which means that energy-intensive cleaning is not required and the need for harsh chemicals, polishes and water is also greatly reduced.
As a material, vinyl is ideally suited to being recycled. It is 100% recyclable and can be recycled many times over without losing any of its properties or performance. The VOC emissions have been thoroughly tested and vinyl flooring is well below the very strictly set acceptable levels.
NOTE: All the manufacturing elements mentioned are used by responsible PVC manufacturers who are governed by various bodies in their respective countries. Unfortunately, there are still manufacturers who do not adhere to these principles, and it is therefore always best to ask for the relevant environmental information and to deal with reputable suppliers who have ISO 14001 environmental certification and preferably BES 6001 certification for Responsible sourcing.