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PVC as packaging material: safe, responsible, recyclable

POLYVINYL chloride (PVC) is considered to be the most versatile thermoplastic and has established itself as an essential material in the packaging industry.

Its applications range from flexible films that preserve food to rigid films that secure medicinal products, as well as security packaging for high-value and corrosive items like batteries. The unique properties of PVC offer numerous benefits, making it a preferred choice for a variety of packaging needs.

Preserving Food and Medicine

Flexible PVC films are widely used in the food industry due to their excellent barrier properties. They prevent contamination and extend the shelf life of perishable items by protecting them from moisture, oxygen, and other environmental factors. This not only helps in reducing food waste, but also ensures that consumers receive fresh and safe products.

In the pharmaceutical sector, rigid PVC films play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of medicinal products. These films provide a robust barrier against external contaminants and are capable of withstanding harsh storage conditions.

As a result, medicines remain effective and safe for use over extended periods. Polyvinyl chloride does not pose a hazard to human health or the environment. It is approved for food and pharmaceutical contact, and also used in a broad spectrum of essential and beneficial applications, including delivery of life-saving fluids intravenously in healthcare settings globally.

Security Packaging for High-Value Items

PVC is also a material of choice for security packaging, particularly for items that are high-value or corrosive. For instance, batteries are often packaged using PVC to prevent damage and ensure safe handling.

The durability and strength of PVC provide a protective shield that mitigates the risk of leaks and other forms of damage, ensuring that the product remains intact and functional.

Recycling and Sustainability

One of the standout features of PVC is its recyclability. Globally, more than 1,5-million tons of PVC are recycled annually. The recycling process for PVC is well-established, with all rigid PVC packaging being sorted and collected alongside construction materials and pre-consumer manufacturing scrap. Flexible PVC packaging can also be recycled, provided it is not contaminated with hazardous biological materials.

In South Africa, the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA) plays a pivotal role in PVC packaging waste management. Registered with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), SAVA has achieved an impressive recycling and collection rate of 13 % for the year ending 31 December 2023. This achievement underscores the effectiveness of organised recycling efforts and the commitment of industry stakeholders to environmental sustainability.

Recycled PVC has found its way into various innovative and practical applications.
Flexible PVC packaging, for example, is repurposed into products such as interlocking floor tiles, shoe soles, and compounds used in the shoe industry.

These applications not only help in reducing waste, but also provide cost-effective materials for manufacturing industries.

Rigid PVC packaging is similarly versatile in its second life. It is transformed into fascia and barge boards, roof tiles, PVC composite decking, cooling tower fills, fencing, and traffic poles.

These products benefit from the inherent durability and weather resistance of PVC, making them suitable for long-term use in outdoor and industrial environments.

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