The problem with plastic: why PVC is an unsustainable innovation
Erik Nord, Business Development Manager at Axis Communications, discusses why sustainability is such an integral part of Axis’ business operations and why the innovative company aims to become PVC free.
One of Axis’ long-term company objectives is to phase out the use of PVC from its products. PVC plastics, alongside the additives it contains, are causes for concern when it comes to fire safety; cancer; asthma; and humans’ ability to reproduce. This is also a difficult material to recycle and is often subject to improper waste management, leading to the dangerous plastic filling landfills, and unfiltered burning causing a considerable impact to the environment.
PVC – what are the risks?
When evaluating the environmental and health risks PVC plastics pose, we should consider not only the raw material itself, but also the phthalates that are added to make it useable in more applications. A key concern with PVC plastic is fire safety. While burning, polyvinyl chloride can release hydrogen chloride (HCl) fumes, which pose a serious health concern. Furthermore, when water is used to extinguish the fumes, it will transform into hydrochloric acid, causing significant damage to its immediate environment – including surrounding equipment and people.
In addition, when PVC is burned, either in an incinerator or an open fire, dioxin is formed. This is a known human carcinogen and among the most toxic chemicals in the world. Firefighters that have encountered dioxin in the past are known to be at a higher risk of developing cancer. Dioxin is transported through the wind from accidental fires or burning waste material, resting in its surrounding environment and accumulating in plants, animals and ultimately humans.
The additives in PVC plastic that help it to achieve its flexible and impact-resistant nature are known as plasticisers or softeners. One group of chemical substances often used is phthalates. This is added during the production process but is not chemically bound to the PVC plastic, meaning it can eventually be released into the surrounding environments. As of June 2015, 80-90% of plasticisers produced worldwide were used to make flexible PVC. In 2014 phthalates accounted for approximately 70% of the total consumption of plasticisers, a reduction from approximately 88% in 2005.
By 2019, this figure is expected to decrease to 65% globally. This is due to new material alternatives and increased legislation. In 2019, four new substances, all phthalates associated with PVC, will be added to EU directive 2011/65/EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), limiting the use of these substances in all electronic products.
Creating a smarter, safer world for all
In today’s industry, the use of PVC plastics should be seen as a largely obsolete, rather than a default option. As an innovator, it is Axis’ duty to stay one step ahead of the market. This ensures its installers and customers are working with future-proofed solutions, driving competitive advantage, complying with the latest regulations and fulfilling social and environmental responsibilities.
When a company must decide whether or not to use an unsustainable plastic, it should consider the benefits of accessible alternatives. These factors may include: reducing the risks plus onset of health conditions; creating a safer site for employees and firefighters in case of a fire emergency; lowering the risk of structural damage from burning PVC; and of course reducing environmental damage. Firms are demanding high quality products that deliver innovation at both a technological and sustainability level. With social responsibility at the core of its business, Axis will ensure its commitment to sustainability continues to extend to PVC and beyond.