We, as a society, have come to the realization that, while plastic is one of the most useful substances on earth, it is also one of the most dangerous for our continued existence on this planet.
The reason isn’t that plastic is inherently dangerous, but the ease at which it is produced, the usefulness of it in the day to day, its polluting potential, and the fact that it takes thousands of years to break down is slowly choking our planet through sheer volume.
As such, people have begun taking steps to try and mitigate or eliminate the plastic problem.
One of the main targets of this campaign is the PVC industry, one of the most abundant plastics used in the world today, and the question on everyone’s lips is whether PVC is recyclable. Well, is it?
What Is PVC Plastic?
PVC, or Polyvinyl chloride, is a common plastic material that is used for a variety of different applications.
It is extremely cheap to produce, easy to mold, and has a wide range of uses due to its flexibility and durability, making it a staple plastic in the manufacturing industry.
In fact, PVC has a number of different uses in the home as well, such as pipes, flooring, and furniture.
The two forms of PVC are: rigid (or RPVC) and flexible. The rigid kind of PVC is the one used in construction and heavy-duty work.
If you’re interested in learning about cutting PVC pipe smoothly for your construction projects, we have a guide for that.
Things like pipe guttering and drink bottles use this type of PVC for its durability and the ease at which a mold of the part needed can be produced from it.
The second type of PVC is flexible. This type of PVC is very soft and flexible, while still retaining a lot of the durability.
This type of PVC is used for electrical wire insulation, plumbing, and inflatable products as well.
However, PVC has its share of drawbacks, with the main one being that it is extremely toxic to produce.
PVC is made using a carcinogenic substance called vinyl chloride, which is extremely dangerous to produce and handle.
PVC is also notoriously difficult to break down, making it a serious danger to the environment.
Can PVC Be Recycled?
As PVC is such a cheap plastic to produce, and a large portion of it is made from recycled materials already, PVC recycling methods are extremely common.
The more recyclable materials in the world, the less PVC waste!
One of the things that makes it easier to recycle is the fact that PVC contains less carbon than other thermoplastics.
PVC will have to undergo polymer recycling, which is a process wherein the polymeric material is reprocessed to make other products made of recycled materials.
Within plastic that has numerous carbon molecules, these molecules are affected, becoming shorter and less uniform, which makes them – and the plastic – more brittle when recycled into their new form.
Since PVC has few of these molecules, it can be recycled up to 8 times, before there is any noticeable difference in its strength or durability in its new recycled form.
These chemical processes contribute to chemical recycling, making PVC disposal more accessible.
Unlike other plastics, PVC only has a lifespan of about 140 years, as well.
This means that while its continued presence is a problem, it is likely to break down much sooner than other plastics, which also makes it easier to recycle.
How Is PVC Recycled?
There are currently two ways in which PVC is recycled and while there are other methods being tested, they have not yet been used in an industrial sense.
As such, here are the two current ways of recycling PVC:
This is where the PVC plastic is mechanically treated, which in most senses of the phrase means that the PVC is ground down into particles smaller than it is.
This results in something called recyclate – basically fine plastic granules – which can be melted into a liquid and then remolded into new products.
Often, this means the same product that it was previously, just in a new form.
This is where chemicals – like pyrolysis, hydrolysis, and heating – are used to dissolve the PVC in its current form and turn it into its base chemical components.
This makes a number of different products, as PVC is made from a great many different components.
The components – hydrocarbons, heavy metals, calcium chloride, and sodium chloride are just some of them – are then used in the manufacture of new PVC products, either in other manufacturing processes or as fuel to power the production.
The problem with PVC manufacture is that a lot of the components are pretty toxic, when they are not combined to make the plastic.
On their own, they can be very dangerous and so the recycling process relies on them being contained, which takes time and money.
How Much PVC Is Recycled?
Well, it depends on the country, but in the United States, not much PVC is recycled.
In fact, only between 0.1 and 3% is recycled nationwide, which is not a lot considering nearly 7 billion pounds of PVC is used in the country every year.
While other areas of the world are better equipped and more willing to recycle PVC, like the UK and Europe, the problem is the scope of the recycling operation.
PVC is a very useful material and a lot of countries rely on its use. However, a lot of countries also do not have the money or facilities to deal with its recycling.
Even if they were to invest in PVC recycling plants, the operations would have to start small and then grow over the years, meaning it would take time to make the necessary arrangements to create a sustainable recycling business.
Yet, everyone does what they can and currently the total PVC recycling rate worldwide sits at about 20%, which is a lot better than we think most people would have thought.
Hopefully, that recycling percent number will continue to increase as time goes on.
PVC is one of the most popular plastics in the world, but also one of the least recycled, especially in countries where it should be.
While it is cheap and easy to produce, it is also extremely toxic, and has a devastating impact on the environment.
However, people have begun to realize that PVC can be recycled and are taking steps to recycle it to prevent it from devastating our planet.