PVC Alternatives Database
Provided by Greenpeace
Roofing and Building Membranes
Tensile or stressed fabric structures have become common alternatives to conventional roofs and structures in recent years, particularly for buildings used for social gatherings or of a semi-permanent nature. Problems associated with PVC stressed fabric are toxic emissions during welding and the release of toxic fumes in the case of a fire. PVC geomembranes are also used as linings in outdoor landscaping, for example in ponds.
The use of PVC profiles in cavity closure insulation is increasing. Insulation bonded to polyethylene profiles is an alternative. Sound barriers are also made of PVC, although alternatives of EVA extruded sheet are also available.
Exteriors; Siding, Cladding, Profiles & Coatings
PVC siding or cladding is widely used in the USA and to a lesser extent elsewhere. There are many alternatives on the market including solid wood, plywood, strand board, wood-resin composites, stucco, fibre cement, masonite as well as aluminum. Siding must withstand all types of weather, look attractive and be affordable to buy and install.
If using wood, the buyer should ensure that the product is from a certified sustainable source (Forest Stewardship Council certified).
Windows and Doors
Despite the claims made for PVC-u windows and doors (PVC-u stands for unplasticised PVC) wooden window frames have advantages over PVC. PVC-u windows do degrade, they are not maintenance free and worst of all they cannot be repaired where necessary.
Developments in timber window design and finishing products mean that modern, high performance timber windows need minimal maintenance and potentially have a significantly longer life than PVC-u. Though maintenance of high performance timber windows is easy and minimal some may consider that they are not suitable for high rise buildings. In this case aluminum and wood combination windows should be considered in preference to PVC.
High performance, double-glazed, timber windows need not cost more than PVC-u equivalents. In the UK the National Housing Federation and some local authorities have found PVC-u window frames to be more
expensive in terms of initial capital cost and more expensive or equal to timber over the lifetime of the windows.
Reclaimed wood or local timbers can be used. In general wooden windows can last for over fifty years and even after that time can be renovated whereas PVC windows have to be totally replaced after 20 - 25 years.
Look out for sustainable timber
Timber is repairable, adaptable and durable. From well managed sources it is a sustainable, environmentally friendly resource. Independent certification by the Forestry Stewardship Council should be sought as proof of acceptable forestry practices. As long as care is also taken in the choice of preservatives, paints and stains, timber windows are by far the best environmental choice.
Other Polymers - In Berlin, where PVC restrictions on building are in force, new polyolefin windows from were installed by the City Council in May 1996. In Austria leading PVC window manufacturing company, Internorm, have developed a VC/chlorine-free plastic window frame.
Alternatives to PVC flooring are easy to find, are competitively priced and perform as well as, if not better than PVC.
Natural materials - Ceramic tiles and marble are highly durable. Stone and terrazos are also traditional, durable materials. When a softer floor surface is required, wood, cork and linoleum can be used. Cork is
indigenous to the Mediterranean region. It is hard- wearing, very sound absorbent and popular because it is agreeable to walk on due to reflection of warmth and its natural bounce. Cork floor coverings are available with untreated or sealed surfaces. Types which are sealed with artificial resins (polyurethane) or PVC should be avoided.
Wood - Wood is a natural alternative to PVC flooring which is very durable and can be renovated by planing or sanding. Increasingly, reclaimed wood floors are available. If using new wood it is important to source wood from certified forests where clear-cutting and other environmentally damaging practices are banned.
Linoleum once dominated the market for elastic floorings before the 1950's trend for synthetic materials. Linoleum is made of renewable materials and consists mainly of vegetable linseed oil to which a natural resin is added. The mixture is spread on hessian fabric and the surface treated with water-based acrylic 'dispersion' paint. Linoleum has very low flammability, is antistatic, light resistant, sound-absorbent, resistant to fats and oils and has a natural
Renovation: Cork and wooden flooring can be renovated and for that reason, this flooring has a longer durability which often justifies the higher costs of fitting. Linoleum can also be partially renovated to repair normal wear and tear.
Synthetic materials for special cases could be rubber and other polymers.
Rubber - Several companies produce rubber floor coverings. Particularly in situations such as airports or sports stadiums where floor coverings have to met great demands in durability, rubber floor coverings have proven effective. Rubber flooring which contains chlorine-based ingredients should be avoided. Ethylene propylene diene (EPDM) type rubber is recommended by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency as an alternative to PVC.
Other polymers - Polyolefin floor coverings (PP and PE) are now offered by leading flooring manufacturers such as the French company Tarkett Sommer and the British company Amtico. The main application for polyolefin
flooring is for industrial use but flooring for domestic use is also available. They are non-flammable, sound absorbent and resistant to wear and tear.
Interiors: walls & decoration
Sheet-style vinyl wall coverings are sought after by consumers who are looking for a lightweight, durable, washable and easily installed material that can be applied to standard wall systems. There are many alternatives that can offer the same qualities, which are made of sustainably acquired materials, and which do not present the health hazards inherent to PVC (vinyl).
All the alternative cable types have better properties than PVC in the event of a fire. They generate less smoke, do not release hydrochloric acid or dioxins and have fire-resistant qualities which match or outstrip PVC. All PVC-free cables cost more at present but will drop in price as consumer and municipalities demand safer material use.
The use of PVC-free electrical cables is growing, particularly in the transportation sector, where safety is critical. Many underground railway systems in the USA and Europe use PVC free cables (also known as low-smoke, zero-halogen or LSOH cables); Vienna, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Bilbao and London all avoid PVC cables underground. Similarly, Eurotunnel, Deutche Bahn, P & O Cruises and the US Navy all specify PVC free cables.
Electrical cables manufacturers have already developed and marketed several halogen-free alternatives to PVC cable as a result of concern over PVC combustion emissions. When cable is designated halogen-free this means it cannot contain PVC or any other organo-chlorine based chemicals.
The main alternative power cables use polyethylene as an insulation and sheathing material. Rubber sheathed cables are also available. Also included in this section are alternatives to PVC for fittings, duct, and trunking, for example, polyethylene and steel are alternatives to PVC pipes for electricity cables.
Pipelines and Accessories
One of the largest uses of unplasticised PVC (known as u-PVC) is in rigid pipes for above ground and underground drainage, gas pipes and electrical cables (see the above Electrical equipment section).
There are a range of traditional and new material alternative to PVC in above/below ground and indoor/outdoor piping. Many alternatives offer the same or improved qualities over PVC and do not pose the same lifecycle hazards.
For underground sewage pipes vitrified clay pipes are suitable and are very durable. The expected service life of a clay pipe is commonly given as 100 years - 5-4 times longer than a PVC system. Clay pipes also have a high resistance to chemicals in waste water. Alternative materials to PVC in sewage pipes may perform better over time: the city of Nyborg in Denmark reported that the PVC main sewage pipe had become extremely brittle and required frequent replacement. In the UK, Anglian Water specify polyethylene or ductile iron pipes in their mains renovation programme. Neither do they allow developers to use PVC pipe in new sewage schemes for engineering reasons. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipes are more flexible and shock resistant.
For above ground drainage, ie. soil and vent pipes and rainwater drainage, materials such as zinc, cast iron, copper, galvanised steel or aluminum can be used as an alternative. Metal guttering has a longer service life
although it may require some maintenance.
The UK gas industry now only uses medium density polyethylene (MDPE) pipe because it is more flexible than PVC pipe.
source: Greenpeace PVC Database
P.O. Box 3063
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