Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was first manufactured in Germany in 1931 as a robust and lightweight new plastic. This breakthrough material was brought about to substitute for metals, glass, wood, natural fibers, papers and fabrics. 25 million tons of PVC is used around the globe today, both in industrialized and developing countries, due to its cost efficiency, durability, self-extinguishing properties, processability, and resources saving features.
Owing to its safe, healthy, convenient and aesthetical advantages, PVC products support daily life in a wide variety of fields including urban infrastructures, electronic products, and consumer goods.
For example, PVC can be found in public lifelines such as water supply, sewage pipes, or power lines. It is also used in building materials such as sidings, furniture, spouts, window profiles, flooring, decking boards, and roofing sheets. Agricultural and industrial applications include green house sheets, semiconductor cleansing facilities, exhaust ducts, and parts for automobile and home electrical appliances. Consumer products include food wraps, synthetic leather and stationery. As you can see, PVC, or polyvinyl chloride/vinyl chloride resin, is a raw material used in a vast range of applications.
General information on PVC is provided here in Chapter 1, followed by introductions on four aspects of PVC; production, characteristics, safety and applications.

What is PVC?

A thermoplastic resin:
Plastics are also called synthetic resins and are broadly classified into two categories; thermosetting resins and thermoplastic resins(Fig.1-1). The thermosetting resins include phenol resin and melamine resin, which are thermally hardened and never soften again. Thermoplastic resins include PVC, polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (PS) and polypropylene (PP), which can be softened again by heating.
Usually, thermoplastics are supplied in the form of palletized material (compounds) with additives (antioxidants, etc.) already blended in it. However, PVC is supplied in powder form and long term storage is possible since the material is resistant to oxidizing and degradation. Various additives and pigments are added to PVC during the processing stage, and then molded and fabricated into PVC products.
PVC is better known as bineel (vinyl) in Japan. This is due to the fact that PVC products made from PVC, in the form of films or sheets, were widely used among the public after World War II, and these products were simply called bineel. When these PVC products that are soft to the touch first landed Japan, where only rigid thermosetting resins had been known, they left a very strong impression among the population. This is how bineel has mistakenly become a synonym for all soft films including polyethylene films.

A safe synthetic resin made from vinyl chloride monomers (VCM):
Most synthetic resins are made up from single molecule units, called monomers. Through a chemical reaction known as polymerization, these single molecules are branched into long chains to form polymers (which are also called macromolecules). PVC is also a type of polymer made from VCM through polymerization (Fig.1-1).
Some monomers exist in the form of unstable gaseous chemical substances, and some of these may cause health hazards when in direct contact with humans. In these cases they are manufactured and processed under strict control for safety. On the other hand, polymers, which are manufactured from monomers through polymerization, are solid and chemically stable substances, therefore do not affect human health. VCM, which is the raw material for PVC, is a high-pressure gas that can pose risks on human health such as carcinogenicity, but PVC do not have such carcinogenicity.
As you can see, plastics possess completely different chemical properties before and after polymerization. Since names of these substances sound unfamiliar, misunderstandings tend to occur regarding their attributes and safety. Also due to the fact that the Japanese terms Enbi polymer (PVC) and Enbi monomer (VCM) are both frequently called Enbi, there has been further confusion in Japan.
One example of such confusion is an erroneous report made in Japan on February 2003, which ran "Carcinogenic" Enbi (PVC) emissions into the air and soil - this of course, is a serious misunderstanding.

Resource saving and fire resistant properties:
Only 40% of PVC's composition is petroleum-derived. PVC is less dependent on petroleum, which is a natural resource that may one day be depleted. Therefore PVC can be regarded as a natural resource saving plastic, in contrast to plastics such as PE, PP and PS, which are totally dependent on petroleum.
Also, PVC contains components derived from industrial grade salt. Thus, PVC is a fire resistant plastic with properties of chlorine containing substances.
When PVC is set on fire, the flames go out as the fire source is removed due to its self-extinguishing properties.

One of four major plastics with the longest history:
Plastics production in Japan for 2001 was approximately 13 million tons, out of which around 70% is represented by PE, PP, PVC and PS. PVC is a general purpose plastic with the longest history in industrial production both domestic and abroad.
Due to its low price, excellent durability and processability, PVC became widely used since around 1948 in commonplace consumer applications, such as air inflated toys including floats and beach balls, films and sheets such as raincoats, bags, containers, or synthetic leather in the form of shoes, hand bags and furniture surfaces. Around that time, PVC began to be used for electrical wire covering. Today, PVC is widely used within civil engineering and construction materials that require durability. Examples include drinking water and sewage pipes, optical fiber protective pipes, wall covering, flooring, window profiles (PVC), and furniture.

Contributes to energy saving and reduces CO2emissions:
Production of PVC requires little energy due to the manufacturing process of its raw material, VCM. According to the results of survey by the Plastic Waste Management Institute, PVC requires only about 70% of energy required for production of other plastics. This means less CO2 emissions occur from production processes, thus contributing to the prevention of global warming.
Furthermore, as PVC products have the required strength, durability, and low thermal conductivity, its heat-insulating efficiency is three times as high as that of metal such as aluminum when used as window profiles and siding boards. Therefore consumption of fossil fuels such as petroleum can be cut back, which contributes to further reduction of CO2 emissions.

Copyright (C) Vinyl Environmental Council (VEC), Japan.