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Top 3 Questions We Answered at Greenbuild about Vinyl

Oct 2016

The Vinyl Institute showcased safe, strong, dependable PVC pipe at this year’s Greenbuild

While lots of people visited the VI booth to hear about PVC’s role in safeguarding our nation’s water infrastructure, we were also asked a wide range of other questions. Here are the top three things people wanted to know about vinyl—and what we told them.

1. What is vinyl made of?

A number of Greenbuild attendees were surprised to find out that vinyl’s main ingredient is salt/sodium chloride. Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride) is derived from two abundant natural resources: natural gas and salt. Through the cracking process of natural gas, ethylene is produced, and through the electrolysis process, salt produces chlorine. 

Through a chemical reaction, ethylene and chlorine combine to form ethylene dichloride which, in turn, is transformed into a gas called vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). In the final step, called polymerization, the monomer converts into vinyl polymer: a fine-grained, white powder (resin) known as polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—or, simply, vinyl.

2. Is vinyl sustainable?

Many of the architects and designers attending Greenbuild were interested in sustainability and using sustainable materials and applications. And, yes, vinyl is sustainable as it is derived from two abundant natural resources. 

Beyond its composition, vinyl has diverse uses and applications in everything from building and construction to packaging.

In thinking about products and sustainability, the vinyl industry thinks in terms of the entire lifecycle. Vinyl is durable in its product application. For example, PVC pipes are known to last 100+ years, based on stress regression and slow crack growth and fatigue testing. Vinyl products are easy to maintain, and they are safe.

Furthermore, at the end of its life, vinyl is recyclable. In 2014, Tarnell Company surveyed more than 100 vinyl recyclers in the U.S. and verified that some 900 million pounds of pre-consumer and some 100 million pounds of post-consumer vinyl materials were recycled that year alone (for a combined total of just over 1 billion pounds of vinyl materials). A 2012 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study, meanwhile, found that, of 58 billion pounds of plastic disposed of in U.S. municipal solid waste landfills, less than 3 percent was vinyl.

3. Is vinyl resistant to ultraviolet rays?

This was a new question for us, but a good one as several attendees at Greenbuild asked us about vinyl's resistance to ultraviolet rays. Vinyl by itself is not resistant to ultraviolet rays; however, there are UV stabilizers added to many vinyl products, including vinyl siding. The primary function of these UV stabilizers is to protect vinyl products from the effects of long-term UV degradation.