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PVC cables contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals

On 25 September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a transformative plan of action to address urgent global challenges over the following 15 years.

Based on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets, the agenda seeks not only to eradicate extreme poverty, but also to integrate and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. Together, the SDGs form a comprehensive global vision to ensure sustainable social and economic progress worldwide.

Without the indirect contribution of wires and cables, it is virtually impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030. Without wires and cables, our society, as we know it, would not exist. Electricity, electronics, transports, IT, home automation depend on cables, especially in our interconnected and digitalised society.

Improving its products’ performance, thanks in particular to the initiatives undertaken in the framework of the VinylPlus® sustainability programme, the PVC cable industry can demonstrate a direct contribution to the achievement of the SDGs. This through new, safer and performing formulations, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and consumption of energy and raw materials, and by an efficient end-of-life management (recycling) of cables.

1. Production Phase: energy efficiency and reduced GHG emissions

SDG 7 – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Target 7.3: By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.

PVC is intrinsically a ‘low carbon’ plastic (only 38% of its molecular weight is carbon, the rest is chlorine and hydrogen), and it consumes less primary energy in the manufacturing phase than other commonly used plastics. LCA studies show excellent performance of PVC cables in terms of energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions compared to alternative materials.

In addition, through the VinylPlus® Voluntary Commitment, the European PVC industry is further improving its energy efficiency, therefore reducing its GHG emissions, both in the production phase and through recycling.

SDG 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Target 12.5: By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.

PVC cables are recyclable and successfully recycled. Thanks to the collection and recycling schemes set up in the framework of the European PVC industry’s Voluntary Commitments, PVC cables recycling reached 151,506 tonnes in 2018 from nearly zero in 2000.

Using recycled PVC helps meet resource-efficiency targets and allows the preservation of natural resources. It has been calculated that CO2 savings of up to 92% are achieved when PVC is recycled: recycled PVC’s primary energy demand is typically between 45% to 90% lower than virgin PVC production (depending on type of PVC and the recycling process). Furthermore, according to a conservative estimation, for each kg of PVC recycled, 2 kg of CO2 are saved. On this basis, CO2 savings from PVC recycling in Europe in the framework of VinylPlus® is now at around 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 saved per year, of which 300,000 tonnes from cable recycling.

2. R-PVC contribution to the SDGs

SDG 6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Target 6.3: By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.

SDG 7 – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Target 7.3: By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.

SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.

Using recycled PVC from cables reduce the Primary Energy Demand (PED) by 47% if compared to virgin PVC compound produced by conventional route; the Global Warming Potential (GWP 100a) by 40% and the Water Consumption by 76%.

LCA data refer to R-PVC produced through a physical, solvent-based recycling technology (https://www.pvc4cables.org/en/sustainability/waste/vinyloop)

SDG 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Target 12.4: By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

The PVC value chain is engaged in the research and development of new formulations to ensure maximum safety and protection of the environment and of the health of users and consumers.

VinylPlus® commitment on the sustainable use of additives, for example, resulted in the replacement of lead-based stabilisers in PVC applications in the EU-28 by the end of 2015, and in the development of a new methodology named ASF (Additives Sustainability Footprint) to evaluate the use of additives in PVC products from the perspective of sustainable development.

New formulations for PVC cables are currently under development, including through the use of nanotechnologies, to further improve their performance in fires.