DETR commissions life cycle assessment of PVC and alternatives

The UK Government's Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions (DETR) is to carry out research comparing the health risks and environmental impacts of PVC with alternative building and packaging materials.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) is popular, safe to use, and widely used in a diverse range of products – in the construction industry for doors and window frames, for medical products such as blood bags, and many household goods. However, there are concerns over possible environmental impacts from its manufacture and disposal (for example from dioxins or vinyl chloride), the production of toxic by-products in accidental fires, and health impacts from the use of additives such as phthlate plasticisers and heavy metal stabilisers.

The research will be a full evaluation of the impact of PVC. The evaluation will incorporate a life cycle assessment, economic analysis and a comparative risk assessment. It will also look at the major alternative materials such as wood.

The health and environmental impacts of PVC and its manufacture and disposal have been well studied, the comparative effects of alternative materials have not received a similar level of attention. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has recently completed a scoping study to identify the most commonly used alternative materials and to consider the most appropriate evaluation techniques to make a satisfactory comparison. The current project will carry out assessments for PVC and a range of alternatives and make that comparison.

The project will include an assessment of a range of PVC product groups e.g. windows and doors, pipes, and packaging. A range of alternative materials for each group will be considered: e.g. timber, concrete, and glass. The objective of the life cycle assessments will be to quantify key environmental and human health impacts, from extraction of the raw material, manufacture, use and maintenance of the products, right through to final disposal. As well as life cycle assessments, economic analyses and risk assessments will be completed for each material considered and their relative contribution to the economy and the level of risk associated with these materials assessed.

The results will provide an independent overview of their relative risks and impacts and will help to inform users of final products in their selection of materials with lowest impacts. The work is part of the DETR’s reassessment of the sustainable production and use of chemicals and will inform future UK input into the formulation of any EU legislation on this subject.

Work will be carried out by ENTEC UK in collaboration with Ecobalance UK and will take 1 year to complete. The project will be reviewed by life cycle assessment experts throughout the year and the results will be published widely. Up to date information sheets will be made publicly available as the work progresses.

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