Over the past two decades, the Vinyl Council of Australia has made considerable progress in guiding the continuous improvement and sustainable development of the Australian vinyl, or PVC, industry. Vinyl Council Chief Executive Sophi MacMillan charts their achievements to date.

Our 20th anniversary celebrations in 2018 coincided with some significant milestones on PVC’s journey towards sustainability. Unlike other materials, PVC has suffered decades of scrutiny and misinformation. But that is all changing thanks to our sustained efforts in transforming perceptions and attitudes towards this versatile, recyclable and widely-used material.

It’s worth remembering that no material – whether man-made or natural – can be considered inherently ‘sustainable’. What’s important is how a material is managed throughout its lifecycle – from raw material extraction to end-of-life – that determines its degree of sustainability.

Launched in 2002, the PVC Stewardship Program (PSP) is now supported by 47 companies representing most of the Australian Vinyl industry. All are committed to continuous improvement in the environmental footprint of their products, whether they manufacture locally or source product from overseas. Around a dozen suppliers and manufacturers of vinyl flooring products are current signatories to this program.

The PSP requires signatories to report annually against strict criteria that measures positive change in five key areas. These cover best practice manufacturing, safe and sustainable use of additives, resource efficiency, energy and greenhouse gas management and transparency. Information and data collected through the program helps to drive innovation throughout the Australian PVC industry, influencing product design and encouraging more efficient manufacturing processes.

This evolving, annually audited program is delivering important results and driving industry performance improvements. Industry successes include the most stringent manufacturing benchmarks for raw material suppliers and the avoidance of toxic heavy metal pigments and additives, plus a newly-enacted commitment to confirm avoidance of classified ortho-phthalate plasticisers.

All the vinyl flooring sector signatories reporting in 2017 complied with the heavy metal commitment and all confirmed avoidance of the use of classified ortho-phthalate plasticisers in the products they supply to the market.

More recycled PVC is being used in products, driven by initiatives for innovative recycling solutions in several sectors including commercial vinyl flooring. Several vinyl flooring suppliers supply products to the market that contain recycled PVC and/or offer take back arrangements for vinyl installation offcuts and end of life materials.

In 2017, two flooring suppliers joined a record 17 companies in achieving PVC Stewardship Excellence Awards, rewarding their perfect scores in compliance with the strict criteria relating to the environmentally-responsible production and supply of their vinyl-related products that year. Companies achieving this standard can be recognised using a specific annual licence mark.

The introduction of Best Practice PVC Guidelines, in 2010 by the Green Building Council of Australia, was partly based on the industry’s PVC Stewardship Program at the time and led to Best Practice PVC accreditation of products, recognised in the Green Star building rating system.

Best Practice PVC products are fully compliant with world-leading, stringent manufacturing guidelines. Holding this accreditation is a great demonstration of supply chain transparency and verification, leading to companies taking greater responsibility over how their suppliers, as well as their own operations, perform.

PVC’s successful use in countless building and construction products over the decades is testament to its durability, functionality and recyclability. Its strength, versatility and resistance to the elements makes it ideal for use in a variety of applications, from windows to flooring and even as a sustainable alternative to timber planks.

As a relatively low carbon durable plastic, PVC provides solutions through its track record of stewardship, alignment with several global Sustainability Development Goals and its demonstrated potential for circularity. Each tonne of recycled PVC will replace about one tonne of virgin PVC compound in new products, consuming 80% less energy and reducing carbon emissions.

The PVC industry in Australia has made great strides towards sustainability through its approach to continuous improvement that is driving change, innovation and better understanding of supply chains for vinyl products placed on the Australian market.

Significant breakthroughs have been made, both in how PVC is perceived and how it is increasingly being specified for sustainable applications. Specifiers considering vinyl products for their next project should look for PSP licence marks and/or Best Practice PVC accreditation to be assured they are choosing wisely.

Through our ‘whole of life’ approach to PVC stewardship, today’s vinyl is a sound material choice.