Polyvinylchloride (PVC) is the third most widely produced plastic after polyethylene and polypropylene – worldwide. Because PVC is durable and inexpensive, it has found numerous different applications. About half of all the PVC produced globally is used for plumbing, as the white pipes are easily recognized rather than dark metal pipes, which could be for a variety of purposes. Further, PVC is resistant to chemicals and to the growth of biological organisms, so it makes an excellent choice for pipes carrying wastewater. Because PVC does not corrode, it can also be used in places where the corrosion of a metal pipe would be a problem, as for drinking water.
Pure PVC is somewhat brittle and difficult to work, but the addition of plasticizers improves its flexibility and expands its utility. In the United States, PVC is also used to make vinyl siding as a low maintenance option for the exterior of buildings and homes. PVC is also used to make the frames of windows and doors and to coat or insulate wiring.
In clothing, designers often employ PVC to make imitation leather because it is less expensive than leather, rubber, or latex. Because PVC is waterproof, it is also often used for boots and bags as well.
Developing a robust process and infrastructure to recycle PVC is very important because under accidental or uncontrolled conditions, PVC can combust to form dioxins. Recycling PVC is technically feasible, but it has not been done extensively because the cost of the virgin product is less than the recycled material. Unfortunately, one of PVC’s virtues is also a drawback: discarded PVC does not decompose in a landfill quickly. As a result, many groups encourage transitioning away from PVC as a building material for the future.