Feature Story Clean Energy & Ocean Solutions

Transforming vinyl: Hanwha's bio-attributed PVC and the future of sustainable plastics manufacturing

June 26, 2024
Plastic Free July highlights the urgent need to address the challenges related to plastic manufacturing and environmental waste.

Plastic Free July is a global movement dedicated to reducing plastic pollution, encouraging individuals and companies to find alternatives to plastic. This important initiative highlights the urgent need to address the challenges related to plastic waste in our environment. While plastics have undeniably revolutionized modern life with their versatility and durability, they also pose significant environmental issues.


As we reflect on the impact of plastic, it’s important to understand how deeply integrated it is into our daily lives. For example, we use PVC, also known as polyvinyl chloride, every day. Shoes, furniture, floor coverings, water pipes, credit cards, drink bottles, sportswear, automotive interiors, and athletic equipment all use PVC. It has proven to be a highly durable, easy to manufacture plastic that has touched modern life in so many ways. 


However, the durability and manufacturing process of PVC and other plastics have also made it a common sight in waste dumps, our oceans, and our bodies. Plastics are slow to decompose, and when they do, they tend to break apart into particles that can literally end up everywhere from the deepest ocean trenches to the top of Mount Everest


In response to these environmental concerns, companies around the world are rethinking PVC and other plastics, looking for ways to make this essential material better for the environment. As part of this movement, Hanwha has designed a bio-attributed PVC by integrating biomaterials into its manufacture. The new method of production means a type of plastic that is more sustainable by reducing the proportion of fossil fuels used. While Hanwha's innovation is a major step forward, understanding its impact requires examining traditional PVC production and the potential of bioplastics as sustainable alternatives.


PVC has proven to be a highly durable, easy to manufacture plastic used in consumer goods and construction materials.

PVC and bioplastics

To understand bio-attributed PVC, it is essential to first examine the production and widespread use of traditional PVC plastic.


PVC, a petrochemical product, was initially created in the mid-1800s and gained popularity in the early 1900s as a substitute for natural rubber. By incorporating ethylene from the fossil fuel industry with chlorine, PVC became more versatile, flexible, durable, and fire resistant. Consequently, the residential and commercial construction industries significantly increased their application of PVC for flooring, siding, pipes, and other uses, doubling between 1980 and the mid 1990s. Today, it’s one of the world’s top-three most widely produced synthetic polymers and one of the top-five general purpose materials, with an estimated 50 million tons produced annually.


The downside is that PVC isn’t particularly good for the environment. The production of PVC depends heavily on ethylene and chlorine. Throughout its lifecycle — from manufacturing and usage to disposal — PVC emits harmful chlorine-based substances into the atmosphere and is a significant global source of dioxins. 


Because of the concerns about the harmful impacts of plastics like PVC on the environment and human health, the chemical industry is looking for ways to make this vital material more eco-friendly. The invention of bioplastics, which are made from plant or biological materials instead of petroleum, represents a more sustainable alternative. Bio-based plastic can be created by converting sugars from plants like corn and sugarcane into polylactic acids (PLAs) or by engineering polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) from microorganisms. The decreased use of fossil fuels in production and the use of natural materials in bioplastics results in lower CO2 emission levels compared to traditional plastics which slows climate change, offering a more environmentally friendly option.


Hanwha’s bio-attributed PVC

Markets around the world, particularly in Europe and the United States, are making strides in developing and utilizing bioplastics to replace conventional plastics. The global bioplastics market is projected to expand significantly, growing from a global production capacity of 2.2 million tons in 2023 to an anticipated 7.4 million tons in 2028.


One reason the global market is growing is the increased drive by industries that rely on PVC to lower their carbon footprint. Key strategies now revolve around prioritizing low-carbon materials, with a notable emphasis on ecologically friendly PVC. A leading example is Hanwha Solutions Chemical Division’s bio-attributed PVC, which incorporates biomaterials like corn, waste cooking oil, and wood. This innovative material can cut CO2 emissions by 58% compared to standard PVC thanks to its use of natural materials in the manufacturing process.

Hanwha’s bio-attributed PVC aims to reduce CO2 by 58 percent compared to conventional PVC.

Due to its sustainability as a bio-product and its low-carbon production method, Hanwha Solutions' bio-attributed PVC has earned the highly coveted ISCC PLUS certification. ISCC PLUS is an internationally recognized certification system that ensures systematic management of the production and distribution processes within the bioeconomy and circular economy sectors. Achieving ISCC PLUS certification is a rigorous process, requiring stringent adherence to environmental and sustainability standards throughout the supply chain.


Consequently, Hanwha Solutions Chemical Division's bio-attributed PVC offers a practical path to carbon neutrality. It retains the same physical properties and processing methods as conventional PVC, ensuring quality and production efficiency without the need for significant changes to existing infrastructure.

Hanwha has designed a bio-attributed PVC by integrating biomaterials into its manufacture.

From PVC to all plastics

While PVC is a specific target for carbon reduction due to its widespread use, we need a broader shift in how we produce, consume, and dispose of plastic overall. Traditional plastics production and consumption urgently need to be rethought to protect the health of our planet and all its inhabitants. Consequently, redesigning the entire lifecycle of PVC and other plastics, from manufacture to recycling, is critical in reducing plastic pollution and achieving true sustainability.


Hanwha believes that embracing a circular economy can address this urgent issue. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an effectively implemented circular economy could reduce primary material use in sectors like automotive manufacturing, construction, and electricity production by as much as 32% by 2030. A pivotal element in this transition is the adoption of bioplastics which can significantly reduce the demand for fossil fuels at the manufacturing stage. 


However, the challenge extends beyond just production. Once plastics have been used, they often end up in landfills or incinerated. Hanwha has been reinforcing the circular economy with its recycled polyethylene (rPE) technology. Recognized for its work with rPE technology, Hanwha Solutions has secured the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) from Control Union, ensuring adherence to stringent environmental, chemical, and social criteria across the entire supply chain.


By taking a multi-faceted approach to the plastic ecosystem and implementing solutions from changing the way plastic is made to the way it is disposed of, we can significantly mitigate its environmental impact and reduce its carbon footprint.


A comprehensive approach

The journey towards sustainable plastics, as exemplified by Hanwha’s bio-attributed PVC and commitment to initiatives like rPE technology, represents a comprehensive approach in how the company approaches material production, recycling, and its environmental impact.


Across the global plastics production industry, innovations like these pave the way for a greener future. This shift not only addresses the critical issue of CO2 emissions but also ensures that the physical properties and processing methods of traditional plastics are retained. Such advancements underscore the imperative of rethinking plastic production to mitigate its detrimental effects on Earth and propel us towards a more sustainable tomorrow.