On Thursday I wrote about the report recently published by the Wood Window Alliance about the health and environmental risks of PVCu windows. If you haven’t yet read that, you can do so by clicking here.

In response, the British Plastics Federation has published this response:

A baffling and misguided campaign by the Wood Window Alliance (WWA), a group set up by the British Woodworking Federation in 2007, has claimed that the PVC industry has been misleading consumers about double glazing.
The British Plastics Federation has issued the following response:
In recent years, the European PVC Industry has transformed its environmental performance via the VinylPlus Sustainable development programme. VinylPlus is a ten-year voluntary commitment taking important steps in establishing a long-term framework for the ongoing sustainable development of the PVC value chain, including a target to recycle 800,000 tonnes of PVC by 2020.
Currently, in the UK alone, over one million PVC post-consumer window frames are being recycled every year. This clearly demonstrates the sustainability credentials of PVC as a building material that can be easily recycled and reused, as well as the ongoing industry commitment to a more circular economy that is not producing waste or pollution.
To the contrary, modern factory-finished timber frames are often made from pressure-impregnated softwood, which is not recyclable. The preservative chemicals used in this pressure-impregnation process can cause serious environmental problems when landfilled.
The WWA campaign states that “PVC is made from Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM), a Class 1 human carcinogen”. Whilst it is true that VCM is a carcinogen, the polymerisation process converts VCM to PVC. PVC is inert and non-toxic, and PVC does not de-polymerise back to VCM. By comparison, sawdust is known to be a human carcinogen – so just as there are risks that need to be controlled during the manufacture of PVC polymer, there are also risks that need to be controlled during the manufacture of timber product. However, it should be realised that the safety statistics for PVC polymer manufacturing are far better than the safety record for the timber and woodworking industry. PVC window frames are a safety-conscious choice.

DGB Business

Regarding fire safety, WWA also states that “PVC melts in a fire and gives off dioxins and hydrogen chloride that can cause permanent respiratory disease”. However, all combustible building products emit toxic gases of some kind during combustion. Carbon Monoxide (CO) is by far the most hazardous element in fire. It arises from the burning of any combustible materials – natural or synthetic. The overall toxicity of emissions from PVC in a building fire are comparable to that of some hardwood timbers.
In addition, PVC is an inherently fire-resistant plastic and is resistant to ignition. The temperature required to ignite rigid PVC is more than 150⁰C higher than that required to ignite wood.
In terms of environmental performance, PVC windows achieve A and A+ grades for domestic and commercial windows respectively in the BRE’s ‘Green Guide to Specification’, effectively the ‘Bible’ for sustainable construction materials in the UK.
Another important factor leading to the well-established position of PVC in construction applications is its durability. BRE gives a Reference Service Life of a minimum of 35 years, and PVC-U can be recycled up to 10 times. However, there are records of PVC windows lasting more than 60 years. This has led to its use in millions of homes and businesses with windows that offer excellent durability and long life, insulation, structural integrity and weather resistance, in a cost-effective way.
The thermal performance of windows is a combination of both framing profiles and glazing. It is a fact that the vast majority of windows certified at the highest level of performance by BFRC are PVC-U windows.
Procurement decisions in favour of PVC products have been made at the highest levels, including at the London 2012 Olympics. The Olympic Delivery Authority concluded that ‘there are cases where for health and safety reasons the only solution is PVC-based material’.
Similarly, many UK public procurement bodies now appear to be selecting PVC products in favour of alternatives due to their superior technical and economic performance whilst demonstrating compliance with the fit for purpose and best value requirements of the Public Contracts Regulations.
PVC windows not only offer an excellent combination of performance, security, aesthetics, low maintenance and reliability but, as expressed by Chesterfield Borough Council, “In terms of sustainability, there is no contest – PVC wins hands down”.

A robust response. The polarisation continues.

To get weekly updates from DGB sent to your inbox, enter your email address in the space below to subscribe: