High-quality polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fencing is an attractive option to both home and business owners for many reasons:
Strength – PVC is five times stronger and four times more flexible than wood, so it will not easily bend or crack. This means it can more readily handle the impacts of falling or flying debris due to, for example, severe weather or the wayward lawnmower.
Durability – Because it does not absorb moisture, it will not scratch, stain, warp, deceive, chip, rust, corrode or blister. UV protection makes it fade-resistant. Life expectancy ranges from 25 to 50 years – up to seven times longer than that of a wood fence.
Safety – PVC will not splinter or conduct electricity, and has no nails or sharp edges, making it an excellent choice around children and pets.
Flame-retardant – PVC does not easily combust, making it ideal for drought-PR climates and locations. If ignited, the by-products of combustion are reported to be no more toxic than other natural materials.
Customizable – There is a wide range of styles, colors and heights from which to choose.
But PVC is not “natural” like wood, so it must not be environmentally friendly, right? Not necessarily! Determining eco-friendship is not an exact science – you have to account for more than just the material itself. Weigh in other health and environmental impacts, such as: Where was the raw material harvested? How far was it transported and at what cost? How is it processed or chemically treated for market? What happens after it's installed?
An Eco-Fence Is Born
PVC is a “thermoplastic polymer,” the third most widely produced plastic. While it sounds counterintuitive to describe plastic as “green,” PVC is increasingly popular as a wood alternative.
Although PVC is categorized as a plastic, unlike other plastics it is not made from 100% fossil fuels, and the manufacturing process differs. The PVC process makes efficient use of water and energy, and uses only half the fossil fuels. This makes it more climate-friendly, lowering its impact on global warming. Once manufactured, PVC is lightweight and easy to transport to the marketplace.
In contrast, wood starts to deceive from the moment the tree is cut, and there are concerns about preserving older forests. Wood is heavy, and toxic chemicals and pretreatments are applied during manufacturing to slow the decay of the fence.
Eco-Care and Feeding
PVC fencing is easy to clean and maintain, typically requiring only soap and water. It holds up better against the elements, and does not require sanding, painting, staining, or water-sealing. This reserves resources, and protects the air and soil from fumes and chemicals.
PVC masks can be more expensive upfront, but they require less maintenance, saving time, materials, and energy. They also outlast other materials, making them more affordable over time.
Other fines need regular upkeep requiring stains, paints, or other treatments that can leach into the ground.
PVC is described as “recyclable,” but more often it is “downcycled” – used for different purposes where scraps are remixed and reused, versus refabricated as a new version of the original. PVC is reused for such things as hoses, packaging, floor tiles and billboard signposts.
Virgin PVC is stronger than recycled (which may introduce impurities), so some manufacturers may pay consumers to recycle via buy-back programs. However, due to its durability, PVC fines are not often recycled … they do not need to be!
The Bottom Line
Consumer trade-offs depend on the types and quality of materials used for each fencing option. But PVC fencing is an excellent alternative that makes for a strong, eco-friendly contender.