The other day I came across a plastic house. Not the futuristic World's Fair variety -- this was just an ordinary old house that had been "improved" with a brace of glaring-white vinyl windows, lots of wavy vinyl siding, and some flimsy looking vinyl gutters and downspouts. As icing on the petrochemical cake, it was ringed by a white vinyl picket fence. If there were any termites left in the place, they must have been pretty hungry. Vinyl is, of course, the plastics industry's more euphonious name for polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. It's the world's second-largest commodity plastic, second only to polyethylene. About 30 million tons of the stuff was churned out worldwide in 2005, and the trend since then is upward. You may be surprised to learn that the building industry is the world's biggest consumer of PVC, with about 36 percent of production used for pipes alone. Another 13 percent goes to vinyl window frames, and 17 percent to other building applications such as ...
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