Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a rigid thermoplastic that can be made soft with the use of plasticisers. The rigid PVC is known as unplasticised polyvinyl chloride or uPVC.
PVC was discovered in the 19th century but suitable plasticisers were not discovered until 1933. It came to into wide use during the 1940s.
Mary Quant’s ‘Wet Look’ famously used PVC to offer a shiny richly coloured surface. PVC is often used as a leather substitute in clothing. It is a good electrical insulator and is therefore used to cover cabling. The unplasticised form is used for window frames and a co-polymer of PVC has been used for records since 1952.
PVC is recyclable. The material can either be ground into small pieces and reprocessed or it can be broken down to its basic molecules and then reused.