Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a widely used synthetic plastic known for its versatility and durability. From packaging to construction materials, PVC is found in numerous everyday items. However, its biodegradability has long been a subject of concern. In this blog, we’ll try to find out if PVC is biodegradable or not. Additionally, we’ll focus on how PVC decomposes.

Is PVC Biodegradable: Unveiling the Environmental Impact

Talking about PVC, first of all, PVC is not biodegradable. PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is a robust material, which is resistant to flames, sunlight, chemicals, weathering, and oil. It can be found all around us in multiple items. It is a very adaptable material that is utilized in a wide range of products, including furniture, toys, construction materials, bedding, clothes, piping, and packaging.

PVC is a type of plastic that is stable but resistant to oxidation and chemical breakdown. The usage of a certain type of fungus or thermal degradation can be used to biodegrade PVC, but still, it takes more than 450 years to biodegrade. PVC is regarded as poisonous when it is produced or burned with specific ingredients like lead. It has the potential to emit harmful compounds into the atmosphere when heated. Hence, the disposal of PVC should be appropriately taken care of due to these factors. Now let’s see if PVC is environmentally friendly.

Is PVC Environmentally Safe?

After learning if PVC is biodegradable or not, it should be clear by now that PVC isn’t environmentally safe. It is a material that is used in many products. It is a thermoplastic that is solid, brittle, odorless, and mainly white. PVC is difficult to break down, and when it does, it releases a multitude of harmful substances. Several health organizations agree that this is the worst plastic out there. It emits hazardous substances during all stages of production and disposal. PVC-made products will maintain their shape for decades, and the disintegration that takes place is just granulation, meaning the fragments only get smaller. These fragments can be consumed by animals, and the plastic may obstruct their digestive processes.

Dioxin and other persistent environmental pollutants (POPs), which pose both short-term and long-term health risks, are released into the land, water, and air during the production of the components that make up PVC, such as vinyl chloride monomer. They build up in the food chain, primarily in the fatty tissue of animals, and are present in the environment all over the world. When used, PVC items may produce hazardous compounds; for instance, flooring may leak the softeners called phthalates.

Is PVC Environmentally Friendly?

The additives in PVC, such as plasticizers and stabilizers based on metals, are one of the biggest worries since they will seep into the soil and have a permanent negative influence on the ecosystem. If it is landfilled, it leaches harmful additives, which once more releases dioxin and heavy metals. Dioxin and hydrogen chloride gas are produced when PVC burns in unintentional fires.

PVC is recyclable but not biodegradable. However, because PVC is so difficult to recycle, very little of it is gathered and processed at recycling plants. Vinyl products are nearly impossible to break down into their original components. PVC products are made from many distinct formulations made up of numerous additives and are difficult to separate for recycling. Even when recycled, PVC exacerbates the issue of dangerous additives and prevents the recycling of other plastics.

Also Read: What is HDPE Plastic – Is HDPE Biodegradable?

How Does PVC Decompose? 

JAN 23 is pvc biodegradable

After learning that PVC isn’t biodegradable in traditional terms, let’s see how PVC decomposes. To biodegrade PVC, a certain type of fungus or thermal degradation can be used, but it takes more than 450 years to biodegrade. The steady decline has a straightforward cause. Since these materials aren’t found in nature, there aren’t any creatures there that can effectively or even partially break them down. The plastic materials contain chemical bonds in them which are not accessible or familiar to bacteria in nature. However, there are some processes that try to decompose PVC. They are mentioned below.

1. Dehydro-Chlorination

PVC deteriorates when subjected to high temperatures, intense mechanical strains, or ultraviolet radiation while being processed, stored, or used all in the presence of oxygen. A process known as dehydro-chlorination degrades the polymer by repeatedly removing hydrogen chloride (HCl). Long polyenes are produced as a result, which leads to discoloration, deterioration of the mechanical characteristics, and a reduction in chemical resistance.

Also See: What is Landfill Gas?

2. Thermal Degradation

When PVC is subjected to extreme temperatures, like during incineration or unintentional fires, it can degrade. High temperatures cause the polymer chains to disintegrate, releasing poisonous gases including hydrogen chloride (HCl) and other chlorinated chemicals. This also answers the question of whether PVC is biodegradable.

3. Chemical Degradation

PVC can be decomposed using a chemical degradation process. The degradation of polymers is a result of numerous factors, including temperature, humidity, and solar radiation. When plastics are exposed to sunshine, they gradually lose their mechanical and physical qualities owing to deterioration. Polymer poly(vinyl chloride) has limited outdoor applications due to its high sensitivity to weathering. Changes in mechanical characteristics and color are the main causes of this.

4. Photo-Oxidative or Ultraviolet (UV) Degradation

PVC can degrade if exposed to sunlight or radiation for a long. The chemical bonds within the polymer chains can be broken down with UV radiation. This breaking leads to changes in physical properties, discoloration, and embrittlement of the material.

Also Read: Plastic Eating Fungi in Manmade Plastisphere May Help Tackle Global Waste

5. Photo Degradation

Despite a very wide variety of photo-oxidative susceptibilities, all commercial organic polymers deteriorate in the air when exposed to sunshine. Typically, bond-breaking reactions and the ensuing loss of beneficial physical qualities and/or discoloration are caused by the absorption of near ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths. PVC experiences a very quick dehydro-chlorination and peroxidation process with the creation of polyenes when exposed to UV irradiation, oxygen, and moisture. Degradation also results in a significant alteration in the polymer’s mechanical characteristics, which is accompanied by a drop in or rise in the average molecular weight of the polymer as a result of either chain scission or crosslinking, respectively. This should have explained if PVC is environmentally friendly.

In conclusion, although PVC isn’t biodegradable in traditional terms, it can be decomposed by processes such as dehydro-chlorination, thermal degradation, chemical degradation, and photodegradation. Understanding the limitations of PVC’s decomposition and its potential environmental impact can help you be more responsible and make sustainable material choices.

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Olivia is committed to green energy and works to help ensure our planet's long-term habitability. She takes part in environmental conservation by recycling and avoiding single-use plastic.

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