Environmentally Friendly


Although A/Es and product manufacturers alike share the passion for the potentials of Green design, reason and scientific fact must always temper this passion—otherwise, far too many specifiers could find themselves pulled into a quicksand of hyperbolic rhetoric.

The truth is vinyl is not the environmental destroyer it is occasionally portrayed as—neither during its current modes of production, nor its typical use, nor after its disposal. To the contrary, on the central criteria of solid waste generation and IAQ, vinyl surfacing is better over its life cycle than many of its alternatives. While these conclusions are perhaps counter-intuitive, the truth is these deductions have the unassailable benefit of resting upon empirical evidence.


1 Toloken, Steve. “Greenpeace, [Vinyl Institute] squabble over Habitat” Plastics News (March 2004) p. 23.
2 Healthy Building Network. “Comments on the PVC Study Methodology of the USGBC’s LEED [Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee] TSAC,” www.healthybuilding.net (January 2004).
3 Forrest, Jolly, Holding, and Richards. “Emissions from Processing Thermoplastics” Annals of Occupational Hygiene. (Vol. 39 [1995] pp. 35 to 53.)
4 It is also worth noting EPA estimates the annual VCM emission to be 1045 t (1152 tons) nationwide. See the group’s “Fact Sheet: Proposed Air Toxics Standards for Polyvinyl Chloride and Copolymers Production Facilities” from December 4, 2000.
5 Visit EPA’s Air Toxics Web site at www.epa.gov/ttn/atw, and search for “Key Risk Assumptions and Limitations”
6 Visit the Chlorine Chemistry Council’s Web site for toxics release inventory (TRI) dioxin data, www.trifacts.org.
7 Visit the European PVC Portal, www.ecvm.org, and select Science, and then Vinyl Chloride Monomer.
8 The full European Commission document can be most easily accessed through the Vinyl Institute’s site, www.vinylbydesign.com.
9 As one vinyl manufacturer puts it, one cannot uncook an egg. See also the previously cited article at www.pvc.org.
10 Visit www.ecvm.org and select Science, and Waste Management.
11 See “PVC and Alternatives in Use” on the Chlorophiles’ Web page, www.ping.be/~ping5859. for more information. (The Cholorphiles comprise over 2000-members of the Belgian and Dutch chlorine/PVC industry.)
12 The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) of NIH’s National Toxicology Program (NTP) has expert panel reports accessible at cerhr.niehs.nih.gov.
13 On page 96 of the European Commission’s Life Cycle Assessment of PVC and of Principal Competing Materials, the report states “recent studies show the presence of PVC has no significant effect on the amount of dioxins released through incineration of plastic waste”
14 For more information, see the California Air Resources Board’s Study of Vinyl Chloride Formation at Landfill Sites in California at www.arb.ca.gov.
15 Visit the Vinyl Institute’s site, www.aboutbluevinyl.org, and search for “Allegations & Facts about Vinyl Manufacturing”.
16 The European Commission’s Life Cycle Assessment of pvc and of Principal Competing Materials agrees. On page 94, it states, “PVC products are highly durable, durable products are potentially replaced less frequently … PVC material requires little maintenance and repair due to its chemical, mechanical and thermal properties. This also has a positive influence on the environmental performance of the life cycle”
17 See Alpha Environmental Testing’s Material Test Report (October 2001).
18 Visit www.defra.gov.uk/environment/consult/pvc.
19 Visit europa.eu.int/comm/environment, and select Resources, followed by Publications, and then Studies and Reports.
20 BEEs provides users with direct comparisons between environmental performance and life-cycle cost. It can be downloaded through bfrl.nist.gov.oae/bees.html http://www.nist.gov/el/economics/BEESSoftware.cfm.

About the Author

Tak Abe is COO and executive vice president of sales and marketing for Lonseal Corp. A graduate of Waseda University (Tokyo, Japan), he has headed up Lonseal’s U.S. operations since 1972, when the Japanese corporation first came to the United States. Abe can be contacted at (310) 830~7111.

MasterFormat No.
06500-Structural Plastics
06900-Plastic Fabrications
09650-Resilient Flooring
09700-Wall Covering

UniFormat No.
C3010-Wall Coverings
C3020-Resilient Flooring

Divisions 6, 9
Department of Commerce
Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (U.K.)
Environmental Protection Agency
European Commission
Indoor air quality
Life-cycle assessment

Despite vinyl’s many advantages as a building material, misconceptions about its supposed environmental/health ill-effects have altered the way some see the versatile polymer.

This article serves to explore the facts—and fallacies— surrounding how vinyl is produced, and what happens to it once it has entered the waste stream.

This article was first published by
The Construction Specifier, the official magazine of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI).

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