PVC irrigation pipes

Plastic packaging type 3 – PVC

Plastics are highly-valuable materials that make modern life possible. These materials play vital roles in all aspects of life and are very beneficial to a number of industries. Plastic packaging is vital in the food, product manufacturing, medical, agricultural and financial sectors, to name a few. However, plastics need to be recycled properly in order to maximise their economic value and to minimise their environmental impact.

To understand more about plastics, we will shed some light on the different types of polymer, their benefits and their recyclability properties, including what products can be made from recycled plastic. We will go according to the material identification codes found on plastics. These are numerical symbols from one to seven that are used to identify the type of plastic.

This coding system is used around the world by recyclers. It enables them to separate and sort plastics so that they can be processed according to the main polymer present. All plastic packaging should display these material identification codes. The third polymer used for plastics is polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

What is PVC?

PVC is one of the most popular and oldest thermoplastic polymers in the world. It was discovered twice in the 1800s; first by Henry Regnault in 1838 and again by Eugen Baumann in 1872. PVC was first sold commercially by BFGoodrich in the 1920s. Most other polymers were only discovered in the 1940s and 1950s. 

There are three forms of PVC; rigid, flexible and liquid. The rigid and flexible variants are by far the most common form, having various applications in a number of industries. Rigid PVC is most commonly used in the irrigation and construction sectors, whereas flexible PVC is widely used in the medical and clothing industries.

Rigid PVC is used to manufacture irrigation pipes, conduit, gutters, pharmaceutical bottles, and fridge magnets. Flexible PVC is used to produce drip bags, electrical insulation, vehicle dashboard skins, gumboots, safety gloves, garden hoses and packaging films. The polymer is highly durable and cost-efficient to produce, requiring minimal amounts of energy.

Benefits of PVC

PVC has numerous unique characteristics that make it a valuable packaging and plastic material. It is highly resistant to environmental degradation, including wear and tear, chemicals and alkaline substances. It is cheap to produce and requires little energy in the process, making it an economically-beneficial polymer.

PVC has a high density and good tensile strength, especially the rigid form. This makes it a popular polymer for the construction and irrigation sectors, where the plastic needs to be able to withstand impacts and hard use. Its high resistance to chemicals and heat also makes it a valuable polymer. PVC is inherently flame-resistant and impermeable to liquids. 

All PVC pipes manufactured in South Africa have been lead-free since 2006 after local manufacturers belonging to the Southern African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers Association (SAPPMA) voluntarily, but at great cost to the industry, accepted a policy of heavy metal-free stabilizers for the manufacture of PVC pipes based on health and environmental considerations. 

As a member of the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA), SAPPMA is also one of the signatories of the Association’s Product Stewardship Commitment (PSC) a voluntary programme aimed at ensuring that all heavy metal additives (primarily lead) are removed from their workplace environments

These characteristics of PVC make it a versatile and highly useful plastic material. It is easy to recycle and is readily available, making it a valuable polymer for the recycling industry. All PVC plastic should be reused, upcycled or sent to a recycling facility when no longer needed. It should never be sent to landfills or dumped in the environment. For more information, visit SAVinyls.co.za


Plastics SA represents all sectors of the South African plastics industry. ​Together with our associations, we play an active role in the growth and development of the industry and strive to address plastics related issues, influence role-players and make plastics the material of choice.

​Plastics SA has been mandated to ensure a vibrant and sustainable plastics industry in South Africa. The plastics sector is uniquely placed to meet the needs of a sustainable society and to deliver solutions to many challenges such as recycling, climate change, water scarcity, resource usage and energy recovery.

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