Home :: Polyvinyl Chloride :: Life Cycle Analysis

The story of less polluting materials.

Any product can be replaced by alternatives. But if they are less polluting, that is another question. In the following page, some complete Life Cycle Analyses, which were made by governments or companies not involved in the chlorine/PVC discussion, are shown. They all give as result that PVC is one of the least polluting materials, comparable with other plastics and far better than a lot of traditional materials.

A Norwegian LCA of PVC in packaging

In Norway the Ministry of Environmental Protection asked for a phase out of PVC in all packaging and to look at the drawbacks of PVC and alternatives in long-life applications. This question was going to the SEM, the Coordinating Council for Packaging and the Environment. The council was composed of:

material producers (paper, glass, aluminium and plastics).
producers of packaging products.
manufacturers of finished products (food industry and pharmaceuticals).
wholesale and retail trade.
environmental interests (Naturvernforbundet - NNV).
labour union.
national authorities by the Ministry of Environment. Top
The results of the investigation of the SEM are condensed in the following table:

Comparison of emissions of PVC in juice bottles, vinegar bottles and margarine tubs with resp. PET, glass and laminate.

Comparison of juice and vinegar bottles and margarine tubs
Type of pollution
PVC PET glass lamin.
greenhouse effect ratio: 1.0 2.8 1.8 2.5
classif.: 1 4 2 3
ozone destruction ratio: 1.0 0.3 1.5 3.7
classif.: 2 1 3 4
fotochemical smog ratio: 1.0 1.7 1.5 3.7
classif.: 1 2 4 3
acid rain ratio: 1.0 0.8 3.2 1.0
classif.: 2 1 4 2
nutrification agents ratio: 1.0 2.0 5.3 2.0
classif.: 1 2 4 2
organic toxic emiss. ratio: 1.0 1.2 0.3 0.8
classif.: 3 4 1 2
inorg. toxic emiss. ratio: 1.0 0.0 80.0 0.0
classif.: 3 1 4 1
amount of waste ratio: 1.0 0.8 3.4 1.4
classif.: 2 1 4 3
energy use ratio: 1.0 1.2 4.0 1.5
classif.: 1 2 4 3
non-renewable raw materials ratio: 1.0 3.1 1.7 3.1
classif.: 1 3 2 3
average result: ratio: 1.0 1.4 10.3 2.0
classif.: 1.7 2.1 3.1 2.7
classification: 1 = best ... 4 = worst
All emissions are in weighted ratio to PVC, which is set to 1.

Source: Disposable packaging containing PVC and PVDC in Norway
SEM, January 15, 1993.

Because of these results, SEM said in their report:

SEM's analyses thus does not provide any grounds for imposing the phasing out of PVC in disposable packing. Parts of the analysis clearly indicate that PVC on the whole is a better alternative environmentally than its possible replacements.

The environmental group (NNV) agreed with the main conclusion of the report, but pointed out that ecotoxicologic effects were not taken in account. The NNV made a report on PVC and environmental hazards, mainly on the possible emissions of dioxins from PVC. This is of course one-sided, because the real emissions of dioxins from the alternatives are not at all mentioned and even not measured. See dioxin releases of materials during their life cycle.

We have not mentioned the financial aspect of the change to alternatives until now, but interestingly, the SEM did calculate, to a certain extend, what the financial consequences would be for a change-over from PVC toward alternatives. They calculated:
No need for neutralisation of hydrochloric acid when incinerating at municipal incinerators: NOK 0.65 million/year.
Investments in new packaging machines in only three factories: NOK 25 million.
Extra costs for the customers, because of more expensive materials, only for three factories: NOK 11 million/year!
Why should you pay more for alternatives, which are NOT more environmentally friendly?


A Flemish LCA of PVC and alternatives in packaging

In Belgium, a heavy ecotax was voted on PVC bottles, to price them out of the market. In the mean time, an investigation In Flanders, the North of Belgium was started by the local government, as a result of a years long discussion between environmentalists and producers about the environmental impact of PVC. Environmental groups (BBL - Bond Beter Leefmilieu - Allience for a better environment), industry and government settled the rules and the products to investigate. The investigation on PVC and alternatives bottles for mineral water was done by VITO, the governmental research institute.

Comparison of emissions of PVC and PET one-way bottles with glass return bottles for mineral water.

PVC and PET one-way bottles with glass return bottles for mineral water.
Type of pollution Glass1 Glass4 PET1 PET4 PVC1 PVC4
Use of fossile energy (MJ) 1750 2500 2500 2750 2000 2250
Use of inorganic raw materials (kg) 27 45 0 0 11 11
Use of processwater (kg) 2150 1800 400 400 500 500
Global warming effect (kg CO2-eq.) 170 260 180 210 120 140
Photochemical oxydants (g C2H4-eq.) 260 390 330 370 210 240
Acidification (g SO2-eq.) 1000 1650 780 950 1100 1300
Chemical oxygen demand (COD g) 240 200 70 70 50 50
Non-radioactive solid waste (kg) 18 25 14 15 14 15
Radioactive solid waste (g) 3.7 7.7 3.6 4.8 3.5 4.7
Air pollution (1000 m3 units for air) 300 500 220 250 230 260
Water pollution (m3 units for water) 250 250 25 25 50 50
Dioxin1 (ng TEQ) 0.2 0.2 3 3 3.3 3.3
Dioxin2 (ng TEQ) 0.2 0.2 0.02 0.02 0.02 0.02
Glass4: 759 g, 15 returns, from France (average 700 km return)
Glass1: 759 g, 30 returns, within Belgium (average 300 km return)
PET1: 38.9 g, within Belgium (150 km one-way, 30 km to disposal)
PET4: 38.9 g, from France (350 km one-way, 30 km to disposal)
PVC1: 43.6 g, within Belgium
PVC4: 43.6 g, from France
Dioxin1: municipal waste incineration as it was in 1993
Dioxin2: nowadays, after renewal of the incinerators

Source: VITO studie verpakkingen van 1000 l niet-bruisend mineral water
(VITO investigation of packaging of 1000 l non sparkling mineral water)
February 1994

A lot of other scenario's, like more recycling were investigated too, these are even more in favour of the plastic one-way bottles.

Based on this investigation, the proposed ecotax on PVC bottles in Belgium was lifted.


A Dutch investigation of gasdistribution systems

In the Netherlands, the most recent study is from Gastec, a consulting firm for the gas industry. They are in no way involved in the chlorine/PVC discussion. They ordered the study to know the environmental impact of different materials in use for gas distribution systems (PE, cast iron, PVC) and one future material (PE-X). They were very surpised themselves of the results.
The results for different materials, used in gas distribution systems

Comparison of different materials, used in gas distribution systems
Environmental item: cast
Photochemical oxydant creation (POCP)
216 216 215
Aquatic Ecotoxicity (ECA) 26 6.4 3.9
Global warming potential (GWP) 31 22 21
Adicification potential (AP) 13 2.5 1.1
Abiotic depletion potential (ADP) 9.7 1 0.45
Human toxicity (HT) 14 1.9 0.76
Nutrification potential (NP) 2.5 0.61 0.33
Odour treshold limit (OTL) 11 0.39 0.48
Ozone depletion potential (ODP) 0.25 0.17 0.07
Energy content (EC in GJ) 748 303 139
All figures in world-normalised scores (year.10^-10).

As a result of this investigation, the government of The Netherlands recommends now PVC for all sustainable building purposes (after years of negative publicity!)...



All alternatives for PVC, do give pollution during production, transport, recycling and/or incineration. In many cases, they use more energy and more scarce raw materials than PVC and in many cases they give more important air and water emissions than the production, transport, use, recycling, incineration and accidental fires of PVC.


There is no reason to treat the environmental impact from PVC in its whole lifecycle different than for the alternatives. And there are no reasons at all to ask for a ban on PVC, only some minor for a change-over to alternatives. But there are at least as much reasons for a change-over from the alternatives to PVC.


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