Vinyl may have a cheap look and feel, but cost-wise, it’s no less expensive than alternative materials that are safer for people and the environment, reveals a new report released today by Tufts University researchers. The report, “The Economics of Phasing Out Vinyl” concludes the economic advantages of vinyl or PVC are overstated, and that substituting vinyl with safer alternatives is cost-effective and practical.
“The American public has been sold a short-sighted and wildly exaggerated claim about the economic benefits of vinyl. In the long run, vinyl is no bargain at all,” said lead author Frank Ackerman, director of the Research and Policy Program, Global Development and Environment Institute, at Tufts University. “Our analysis shows phasing-out vinyl in favor of safer alternatives makes good sense from an economic perspective,” Ackerman said.
The report compares the cost of common vinyl products, including roofing, flooring, pipes, medical devices and siding. In many cases, a vinyl product that looks cheaper than alternatives, based on the price tag alone, is actually more expensive based on life cycle costing – that is, the total cost to the user for purchase, maintenance, and disposal over a fixed number of years. “In all product categories we looked at, affordable alternatives are available,” Ackerman said.
For example, vinyl flooring, which has the lowest first cost among the 12 flooring products examined in the Tufts report, is in fact the most expensive flooring option based on a life cycle basis, due to its relatively short lifetime and high maintenance requirements. Thus, the initial cost savings from vinyl are swamped by high costs over the life cycle of the flooring.
“Vinyl is one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer products ever produced. This report proves that a vinyl phase-out is justified on economic, as well as environmental grounds,” said Bill Walsh, National Coordinator of the Healthy Building Network.
The by-products of vinyl production are highly persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, including lead, mercury, and the potent human carcinogen dioxin, for which there is no known safe dose. Nations around the world and several U.S. cities have taken steps to avoid vinyl products in favor of safer alternatives. This month, the U.S. Green Building Council, which has created the nation’s leading green building standards, will initiate a process to consider whether green credits should be issued to buildings that avoid vinyl.