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PVC products

Background - 2 June, 2003
Many products are made of, or contain PVC. Here you can find out what everyday products contain PVC.

Food and cosmetic bottles made of PVC

Building materials

PVC siding - This is widely used in the US as a replacement for timber cladding. In the rest of the world it is far less common. Alternatives such as timber or strand board are widely available.

Insulation - The use of PVC profiles in cavity closure is increasing. Alternative products made with polyethylene are available.

Roofing Membranes - Roofing film made of soft PVC is used on the insides of roofs as shielding and flashing against water. Phthalates from soft PVC can be emitted to air and to water. Several alternative plastics exist.

Pipes - Rainwater guttering and drainpipes, water supply pipes, sewerage and drainage pipes, protective pipes for cables.

Approximately 90 percent of PVC pipes produced are waste pipes, protective pipes for electricity and telecommunications cable and underground drainage pipes. The rest are found in buildings as waste pipes or as mains pipes.

Pipes are made from rigid PVC (or unplasticised PVC - uPVC). Lead or tin stabilisers are often used in pipes, and red-brown pipes contain lead pigments. PVC-Free Pipes and Ducts are available.

Electricity cables, telephone and data cables - PVC coating is commonly used in cables and lines for the transfer of electricity and information. PVC in cables is one of the most hazardous uses of PVC for the environment and for human health. Fires involving PVC cables result in releases of hydrochloric acid and dioxin. Flexible PVC that contains plasticisers is used for PVC cables. Alternatives - PVC free electrical cables and wiring.

Doors, windows and conservatory frames - made from unplasticised PVC (u-PVC) are heavily promoted by industry as replacement windows and doors. Sustainable timber is a suitable alternative. Alternatives - sustainable timber windows.

Electrical products

TV, video, Hi- Fi - In electrical products, plastics are mainly found in casings and cable sheathings. However, they are also found in circuit cards, component capsules, mechanical bearing parts and moving mechanical components, such as wheels and stub shafts. Approximately four percent of plastics used in the electronic industry are PVC and it is mostly used in cable sheathings. Alternative materials do exist and some companies are beginning to implement them.

White goods - These include washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, and freezers. PVC is commonly found in cables, shelving and door gaskets.

Alternatives: a few manufacturers, such as Electrolux, have policies to phase out the use of PVC in their appliances, see Solutions, for details on some company policies.

Lamps - Soft PVC is found in cables for light fittings.

Office equipment - In items such as computers and fax/printers plastics are mainly found in casings and cable sheathings - cables are usually PVC. Alternative plastics are available but not commonly used.

Telephone - Cables are commonly made of PVC.

Furnishings

PVC floor & PVC (vinyl) wall coverings.

PVC flooring is made of soft PVC, and other materials such as cork tiles may have a PVC coating. Types of PVC flooring are cushion vinyl, sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles, and contain phthalate softeners, which are released into the air.

A recent study concluded that a child's risk of bronchial obstruction was related to the presence of PVC flooring in their home or nursery. The researchers concluded that phthalate plasticisers in the flooring could be responsible. PVC floors release the phthalates DEHP and BBP when washed. Such releases, depends among other things, on the frequency of washing (estimated at 1-5 tonnes per year in Denmark, for example). Smaller quantities may be emitted into air and consequently cause obnoxious smells. The technical life of vinyl floors and wall coverings is at least 15 years, but their full life is not always used. Softeners, primarily the phthalate DEHP, can make up approximately 20 - 25 percent of vinyl floors, and between 10 - 30 percent of wall coverings. Chlorinated paraffin's are also sometimes used as softeners.

Carpets - Carpet tiles and mats sometimes have undersides made from soft PVC. Suitable alternative materials exists.

Furniture - Imitation leather and furniture film are made from soft PVC, which contains phthalates. Phthalate releases can occur in connection with washing and direct exposure, and to a lesser extent to air. Other furniture parts can be made of PVC. Alternatives: other materials, including textiles and genuine leather, can replace imitation leather. Imitation leather can also be made from polyurethane (although there are other concerns about this plastic). The furniture retailer IKEA has phased out the use of PVC.

Inflatable furniture and water beds - this furniture, which is often designed for a short life, is made of soft PVC.

Venetian blinds - These are sometimes made from unplasticised PVC (PVC-u). In 1996 Health Canada advised households with children up to the age of six to remove lead-containing PVC miniblinds from their homes.

PVC is thermally unstable and cannot be used in products without stabilisers, which can include lead. Dust containing lead can been released as they degrade in sunlight. Lead can affect the nervous system and the reproductive system in low doses. Lead in PVC miniblinds was found to pose a significant risk to young children in Canada. Approximately nine percent of the childhood lead poisoning cases in North Carolina are attributed to this PVC product.

Alternatives: Natural materials such as wood, bamboo and metal are all suitable alternatives to PVC.

Shower curtain - These are often made from soft PVC, which usually contains phthalates. Alternatives are available in other plastics and polyester.

Packaging

PVC in packaging includes disposable bottles (for oil, mineral water, vinegar etc), wrapping film, trays and boxes, bottles and jars, blister packaging, crown cork, transportation packaging. It is not always easy to spot; for example, the soft inlays in screw top lids and caps are often made from soft PVC and used in glass packaging for foodstuffs. Phthalates in the soft PVC can migrate to the packaged foodstuffs.

Alternatives: There are a variety of alternatives to PVC, including glass, card and other plastics. It is possible to use alternatives to soft PVC inlays if production methods are changed. However, this has not been initiated yet due to the cost of production changes. A large number of supermarkets and other retailers are phasing out the use of PVC in packaging.

Other packaging: PVC is most frequently found in blister packaging and transparent foils (cling film). Packaging makes up a large part of household waste. Dustbin - to landfill or incinerator.

Clothing

Aprons - PVC laminated textile is often used as a water resistant material for tablecloths and aprons. The PVC contains phthalate softeners, which could leak into water during washing and wiping. Alternatives include unlaminated textiles, alternative plastics.

Shoes - Soft PVC is used in shoes and parts of shoes, such as soles, labels for logo imprints, upper parts made from PVC imitation leather coatings. Alternative materials include products such as leather, rubber and polyurethane.

Boots and waders - Rubber boots (also known as Wellington boots) are sometimes made from PVC containing phthalate softeners. The phthalates are released to water during use and when the products are washed. Alternatives: Boots made from other materials are available.

Bags - Sports bags, school bags and shoppers are often made from nylon with a PVC coating to make them waterproof. Alternative materials for bags are cotton canvas, textiles with polyurethane coatings, nylon or polyester.

Luggage - Soft PVC is often used as a surface coating, inner coating or for parts of products in bags, suitcases and other luggage. Alternatives - as for bags.

Clothes - T-shirts with plastisole prints, patent PVC clothes - eg trousers and raincoats (for waterproofing). Phthalate plasticisers in textiles will be washed out in normal washing - almost the entire phthalate contents are washed out during the service life of products such as printed T shirts. People can also be exposed to phthalates through contact with the skin, although the extent of this exposure is not known.

Children and baby products

Cot mattresses - Those with a waterproof coating of PVC are common, as are waterproof sheets to protect mattresses. Alternatives include cotton mattresses and futons, and uncovered foam mattresses. Waterproof covers made of polypropylene are available.

Baby changing mats - Alternatives are available in polyester.

Nappy covers - Alternatives are made from polyester, nylon and polyurethane.

Bibs - Alternatives are made from textiles and polyethylene/polypropylene.

Pushchair/stroller - Clear PVC (containing plasticisers) is used in transparent hoods to keep out the rain on pushchairs or strollers.

Toys - Teethers, squeezy toys, inflatable toys, dolls. Toys are often made with soft PVC, which contains phthalates. These phthalates can constitute a health hazard, especially with regard to teething rings and baby toys for children under the age of three. Children often put toys into their mouths and chew on them. The phthalates in the soft PVC can leach out into saliva. An EU Scientific Committee expressed concern about the exposure of children to phthalates in soft PVC toys.

Alternatives: Natural materials are suitable alternatives for most types of toys, as well as some alternative plastics, which don't require the addition of plasticisers or other hazardous additives. For more information about the problems of PVC toys, government and company actions -Free Future - Toys and Children's Products manufacturers, Toys Retailers.

Garden furniture and products

Hosepipe - Garden hosepipes made from PVC usually contain the phthalate DEHP. Phthalates are released to water during use, but the extent of such releases is not known. PVC free alternatives are available but are generally more expensive.

Tables and chairs - The least expensive garden furniture is usually u-PVC. There are numerous alternatives in wood and metal.

Tarpaulin - These are used for covering purposes, for example over garden furniture and within the building sector, for lorries and storage tents. They are made from yard goods, for example nylon or polyester, with a PVC coating of soft PVC, usually containing DINP. Phthalates may be released from tarpaulins in production, by washing, into rainwater and to the air. Alternative materials include flax canvas and polyethylene - possibly reinforced by polyamide threads. Other alternative materials could be polyester gauze or polyamide gauze with a coating of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). These alternatives will currently be more expensive as the production machinery is based primarily on the production machinery of PVC tarpaulins.

Paddling pools - Inflatable and non-inflatable paddling pools are made from soft PVC, as well as swimming wings and rings. There are currently no direct replacements for these products. A solid polypropylene pond liner is a more expensive option for a paddling pool.

Lawnmower - PVC can be found in cables for lawnmowers and other garden machinery.

Greenhouses and coldframes - Corrugated PVC sheeting is often used as a cheaper alternative to glass for greenhouses and coldframes.

The phthalate DBP is a component in PVC glazing strips in glasshouses. Some work completed by the Institute of Horticultural research in Wellesbourne, UK, has shown that as little as 200 picogrammes DBP per litre of air can kill plants.

They argue that a variety of glasshouse plants have been damaged on a worldwide basis since the 1930s. Greenhouse glass and safety glass, when needed, is the best alternative, although this is more expensive.

Membrane pond liners - PVC is sometimes used as a pond liner, where releases of phthalates into water will occur. Butyl liners are a good alternative and are widely available.

Cars

Car undersealing - Soft PVC is used in undersealing to prevent rust. This is an important source of phthalates in waste water. Phthalate releases from cars are estimated at approximately 2 -10 tonnes per year in Denmark (Action Plan for reducing and phasing out phthalates in soft plastics. Danish Ministry of the Environment and Energy, June 1999.) A few car makers do not use soft PVC for undersealing. The alternatives are polyurethane and tar compounds, and some new cars have undersides, which are completely galvanised.

Sundries, such as office stationary, tape and first aid.

PVC coated dish rack, clothes driers, refrigerator shelves. Soft PVC is often used to coat metal racks, which would otherwise rust.

Tape - Tape for packing, and self adhesive films are made from soft PVC.

Records - The word 'vinyl' is synonymous with music because of its use in records; however this is now a very small use due to the popularity of CD's.

Office supplies - Ring binders, folders, letter organisers, writing pads, clipboards, calendars can all contain soft PVC. Alternative materials, such as cardboard and other plastics, exist for the vast majority of these products.

Medical Products

Medical devices - this product group is made up of products that are used directly in the treatment of patients.

Soft PVC products include colostomy bags, catheters, urine bags, infusion set and blood bags. Other medical products include certain gloves, drawsheets, and shoe covers made from soft PVC. Phthalates can be released in production and through migration into, fluids or blood. Alternatives: There are non-PVC alternatives for a number of products that have been developed and tested. In addition, some Medical products companies are phasing out the use of PVC.

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