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Turnover of the biggest thermoplastics

Graph - Turnover of the biggest thermoplastics, 1995 - 2009.Graph - Turnover of the biggest thermoplastics, 1995 - 2009.

Source: Products Register, Swedish Chemicals Agency.

Thermoplastics are softened by heating and stiffened by cooling. They can thus be melted and given a new form, which facilitates manufacture and reuse.

Turnover of the biggest thermoplastics is shown in the graph.

Polyethene is used e.g. in food packaging, household products, cable insulation, building foil, plastic bags, crates and bottles.

PVC is mostly used for the production of tubes, flooring, foil, cables and profiles.

Polypropene is used for vehicle fittings, tubes, rope and cord, food packaging and household products.

Polystyrene is mostly used for packagings, disposable articles and household products.

PVC use areas in Europe

Graph - PVC use areas in Europe.

Source: The European PVC industry initiative Vinyl 2010.

According to information from the PVC sector* the use of PVC for profiles and coated fabrics has increased whereas the use in pipes and fittings, cables and flooring has decreased compared with Swedish data for 2000. This change might also depend on the fact that European and Swedish use could be different. Other uses are for coated sheet, automotive details, synthetic leather, sealants and medical devices.

Average content in PVC

Graph - Average content in PVC

Source: Swedish Chemicals Agency Report 4/97.

PVC is a plastic material consisting of the polymer polyvinyl chloride, PVC, and additives. The plastic raw material or polymer consists of long carbon chains with hydrogen and chlorine atoms.

Additives are substances which are added to soften the material, to make it heat-resistant, coloured, impact-resistant and stronger. The additives used, and the percentage in which they are used, vary according to the application of the plastic.

Average content in PVC
PVC applicationsmin%max%average%
PVC polymer 50 95 72.5
Plasticiser 0 50 25
Stabiliser 0.2 5 2.6
Lubricant 0.1 2 1.05
Filler 1 50 25
Reinforcement 0 10 5
Pigment 0 5 2.5
Sundry 0 5 2.5

Source: Swedish Chemicals Agency Report 4/97.

Average content in rigid PVC

Graph - Average content in rigid PVC.

Source: Swedish Chemicals Agency Report 4/97.

Average content in rigid PVC
Hard PVCmin%max%average%
PVC polymer 50 95 61.35
Stabiliser 0.2 5 2.6
Lubricant 0.1 2 1.05
Filler 1 50 25
Reinforcement 0 10 5
Pigment 0 5 2.5
Sundry 0 5 2.5

Source: Swedish Chemicals Agency Report 4/97.

The use of plasticisers in PVC

Graph - The use of plasticisers in PVC 1994-2005.

Source: Products Register, Swedish Chemicals Agency.

PVC is a hard material but can be softened through the addition of a plasticiser. Flexible PVC is used in PVC flooring, foils for building and car interiors, cables, hoses, coated fabrics and in medical devices.

The most common plasticisers are phthalates. Use of di(ethylhexyl)phtalate, DEHP, has to a great extent been changed to diisononyl phthalate, DINP and other branched dialkyl phthalates of mixed carbon chain lengths between eight and eleven. According to the industry* DEHP constitutes 20 per cent of the phthalates used by European PVC manufactures whereas globally, the use share is still 50 per cent.

Other substances that can be plasticisers are adipates and citrates. They are used to a minor extent.

Use of plasticisers in PVC
SubstanceUse in 1994, tonnesUse in 1999, tonnesUse in 2002, tonnesUse in 2005, tonnesUse in 2008, tonnes
Diethyl hexyl phthalate, DEHP 14,900 12,272 2,732 1,608 1,486
Diisononyl phthalate, DINP 459 452 8,426 10,660 12,489
Diisodecyl phthalate, DIDP 8,035 5,774 5,875 1,006 1,060
Butyl benzyl phthalate, BBP 1,268 1,038 676 716 19
Other phthalates 5,831 5,279 5,448 9,396 12,486
Adipates 1,380 1,002 1,141 1,182 1,573

Source: Products Register, Swedish Chemicals Agency.

All PVC need to be heat-stabilised to prevent degradation from heat and processing. Also when the finalised plastic product is in use protection against decomposition from UV radiation and heat is needed. Different metallo-organic substances are used as stabilisers. The use of cadmium compounds for stabilising and colouring of plastic is now banned.

Lead stabilisers are no longer much used in plastics, see the chart below of the Swedish use. The European industry reports that the use of lead stabilisers has decreased with 76 per cent during the last ten years, from 127,000 tonnes to 31,000 tonnes. They have been replaced by organic calcium compounds, about 78,000 tonnes, and tin, zinc and barium compounds, altogether about 28,000 tonnes in the EU.

Lead in raw material for plastic

Graph - Lead in raw material for plastic.

Source: Products Register, Swedish Chemicals Agency.

Even if the use of lead stabilisers has decreased in European industry these substances can be used in imported products containing plastics.

*Source: The European industry initiative Vinyl Foundation, report Vinyl 2010.