Professor Christina Cogdell; TA: Alex
Design 40A – A01
01 December 2016
Vinyl Stickers Raw Materials
Sometimes found on the lid of an Apple Macbook or advertised incessantly as a must-have-on-your-wall, vinyl stickers are mostly known for their decorative purposes. However, these products are much more prevalent in our lives than one would think. With multiple names such as decals, labels, or by a practical description of self-adhesive vinyl, these “stickers” often serve other purposes than mere decoration such as through branding and advertising (still decorative, however the purpose is not). For something as simple as a peel and stick product, one would think the manufacturing process would be the same. Yet, it is not. Nor is the availability of the information or the entirety of the process. As a global economy, as well as a mass produced consumer product, the materials can be obtained from a variety of different places, thereby making the process of gathering information difficult. Not only this, but the versatility of the product brings forth another difficulty: there is no clear cut way in manufacturing vinyl stickers. This paper will attempt to cover all parts of the life cycle of the vinyl stickers with a focus on the raw materials. It is questionable how the production of vinyl stickers (and their use) can outweigh the energy and wastes that go into the process.
One advantage to vinyl stickers is its longevity, at least compared to paper stickers. This is due to the fact that the vinyl film is a plastic product. Now, there are two major components to the vinyl sticker: the vinyl film and the adhesive; four if we include the backing paper and transfer paper. On a cursory search on vinyl stickers, what appeared most often was the plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and not much else. PVC is a petrochemical product, meaning that it is derived from petroleum. Courtesy of the video describing the production of PVC, the process to produce PVC is closed and automated to the point where human intervention involves the maintenance and cleaning of the equipment and controlling the process. The two raw materials that make up PVC are ethylene and chlorine. Ethylene is retrieved from the oil and gas industry by the process of cracking, which involves breaking down hydrocarbons into simpler molecules. Meanwhile, chlorine is derived from salt (NaCl) and can be retrieved through electrolysis. Once ethylene and chlorine are present, the two react to form an intermediate chemical called ethylene dichloride (EDC) through a process called chlorination. Then through the process of oxychlorination in combination of chlorination, then cracking (using heat) EDC can be converted to vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) and hydrochloric acid. VCM is then purified and undergoes a cooling process that requires large quantities of water. This water is cycled back into the system after purification, therefore not wasting any water. The next step involves VCM reacting with itself over and over again until it produces a long chain of polymers in a process called polymerization; where VCM is placed into an autoclave, structures that vary in size (up to a two story building), the video describes as a pressure cooker. This involves water, additives that were not described, heat and VCM. Afterwards, this slurry undergoes a stripping step to separate the unreacted monomers from the polymers where the monomers are placed back into the system so that it does not escape into the environment. During the centrifuge step, excess water is removed. And finally, at the end of the process, the PVC is dried; this product comes out as a fine white powder.
The stage to create a vinyl film is to compound the PVC resin into tiny pellets. There are two ways to manufacture vinyl film: by casting or calendaring. To reiterate an earlier point, because of the versatility of the combination of PVC and the additives, the quality differs between the two processes. Casting films results in a high grade product while calendaring films is the more economical process. Hudson Display Services Limited describe the two processes to cooking; casting films is similar to “baking a cake,” which involves pouring a liquid mixture into a casting sheet and is processed through series of ovens, meanwhile calendaring films is similar to “pizza dough” where the batch is “mixed and heated to a molten state” and is then “extruded through a die and is then fed through a series of calendaring rolls.”
This paper will focus on the calendaring process to make the vinyl film. To transform the white powder that is PVC resin to a vinyl film, a couple of other materials are added in. An important ingredient to add is the plasticizer, a clear liquid that softens the PVC resin and adds flexibility to the final product. According to John Hingst, “normal vinyl films used in graphics applications contain between 20% and 25% plasticizer… The plasticizer’s molecular weight helps determine its stability. Higher-molecular-weight, polymeric plasticizer comprises very big, bulky, slow-moving molecules. Hence, they stay in the film.” The next few additives are optional: stabilizers such as UV absorbers which protect the film from UV lights and oxidation, pigments to change the vinyl film color. When the PVC resin, plasticizers, and optional additives are blended together, it is fed into an extruder until the “fine powder melts, at approximately 300°F, the extruder kneads the material into a hot, twisted plastic rope. The extruder also helps strain out any foreign particles, which could damage the machinery” (Hingst). The plastic rope is fed through calendaring rolls as heat continually increases, allowing the vinyl film to become more malleable. The film is squeezed through several more calendaring rolls until it is as thin as the vinyl stickers we are used to seeing. Last but not least, the film passes through another set of rollers that cool the vinyl sheets, then another set of rollers that give it a surface finish, then wound up “to minimize any tension that could result in future, dimensional-stability issues” (Hingst).
Now the next stage of the vinyl stickers, the application of the adhesive on the vinyl film, is based on assumptions for the reason that there was no mention of the exact type of adhesive used. Since different additives can be blended with the PVC resin, and two different manufacturing processes, the type of vinyl stickers can defer. For example, waterproof vinyl stickers would have a different adhesive compared to one that can be applied on the wall or on a laptop. Common adhesives used for vinyl stickers are solvent-based acrylic adhesives (Hudson). These acrylic adhesives are synthetic, deriving generally from petroleum as well (Brett). Another aspect that was also difficult to find was how the adhesive could be applied to the vinyl film. Therefore, as a substitute, or as a possible way the adhesive could be applied, I found a video illustrating how adhesive tapes manufactured and applied its adhesive (How It’s Made | Adhesive Tape). The adhesive process is similar to the beginning process of PVC resin where additives such as UV protectors, antioxidants, color pigments, and synthetic resin are mixed together (Adhesive Tape). This particular adhesive is called hot melt and is loaded into a holding tank that maintains heat (at 102 degree Fahrenheit) as it is pumped onto a slanted edge so that the liquid adhesive can spread onto the tape film as it is wound.
The next stage is also optional, as it depends on what kind of vinyl stickers are produced. Vinyl stickers can be minimalistic, simply cut by a cutting plotter. Or the vinyl stickers can have graphics on them which means specific inks need to be chosen based on the type of vinyl is used. As the reoccurring theme of this paper is: PVC is versatile, therefore its product, vinyl, is versatile.
After a long journey, especially the production of the vinyl film as that was the majority of the paper, the vinyl stickers are packaged in plastic and cardboard for distribution and transport. However, this process splits off as vinyl stickers can also be made by the consumers. They can purchase rolls or sheets of self-adhesive vinyl and print and cut out their own stickers. After use, vinyl stickers are generally not recyclable because they can get caught in the recycling machines, thus it is suggested that the consumer can reapply adhesives to the back of the vinyl stickers. Otherwise the last resting place for the vinyl stickers is the landfills. Throughout this research experience, my indifference towards vinyl stickers morphed into questioning as the more I tried to find one definite process, are vinyl stickers (and stickers in general) worth the trouble of this whole process? PVC can be made into many different products, such as pipes, and has many useful physical properties such as fire retarding properties and oil/chemical resistance (PVC).
“Adhesive Vinyl: Cast vs. Calendered Vinyl.” Youtube. Youtube, n.d. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ei7VhjR33oQ>.
"A Basic Guide to Vinyl Signs, Decals, and Graphics - SignWarehouse Sign College." SignWarehouse Sign College. N.p., 06 Oct. 2015. Web. <https://www.signwarehouse.com/blog/a-basic-guide-to-vinyl-signs-graphics/>.
Brett, Owen. "Adhesives." Ed. John Packer. Adhesives and Adhesive Tapes (1990): 1-95. Polymer Group of the NZIC. Web. <http://nzic.org.nz/ChemProcesses/polymers/10H.pdf>.
Hingst, Jim. "How Calendered Vinyl Films Are Made." How Calendered Vinyl Films Are Made. RTape Corp, 2012. Web. <http://www.rtape.com/blog-post/how-calendered-vinyl-films-are-made>.
"How It's Made - How Stickers Are Made." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=by1hPE-sYNg>.
"How It's Made | Adhesive Tape." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuNjR2uPcZg>.
"Ink Types Used in Wide Format." Hudson Display Services Ltd. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.hudsondisplayservices.co.uk/inks>.
"Lamination of Digital Prints: Why, When, How - SignWarehouse Sign College." SignWarehouse Sign College. N.p., 17 Oct. 2016. Web. <https://www.signwarehouse.com/blog/lamination-of-digital-prints-why-when-how/>.
"PVC." How Is PVC Made ? - PVC. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.pvc.org/en/p/how-is-pvc-made>.
"PVC." The PVC Production Process Explained - PVC. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.pvc.org/en/p/the-pvc-production-process-explained>.
"Raw Materials & Manufacturing." Raw Materials & Manufacturing. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.vinylindesign.com/mainmenu/Learn/VinyltheEnvironment/RawMaterialsManufacturing.html>.
"Self Adhesive Vinyl - the Basics." Hudson Display Services Ltd. Hudson Display Services Ltd, n.d. Web. <http://www.hudsondisplayservices.co.uk/selfadhesivevinyl>.
Vinyl Sticker Embodied Energy
One of the most versatile polymers today, vinyl or PVC (polyvinyl chloride), is the third largest plastic consumed globally. “Manufacturers consumed 77 billion pounds in 2007 and project an annualized growth rate of 5% per year. The U.S. and Canada consume about 19% of the total global demand about 14.3 billion pounds in According to the America Plastics Council. Over 70% of vinyl is used in building and construction. Also, the vinyl is the important material using as producing the merchandises (Sustainable Vinyl)”. However, when it comes to the vinyl, it is pretty health and environmental friendly than the plastic or polymer. Several industries and organizations have commissioned a range of life cycle assessments based on various applications. It is widely acknowledged that vinyl will exert better consistent function with other polymers and natural materials, particularly in the environmental.
First of all, vinyl is made by chlorine, common salt and the ethylene from the natural gas, and all of those raw materials are natural ingredients. In other words, in the process of acquiring raw materials, vinyl will save much energy because of the raw materials can directly gotten from the nature. When it comes to the chlorine, “this element is a part of the halogen series forming salts. It is extracted from chlorides through oxidation and electrolysis. Chlorine gas is greenish-yellow and combines readily with nearly all other elements (Chemical properties of chlorine - Health effects of chlorine - Environmental effects of chlorine).” As the article mentions, the nature of the chlorine, one of the material composition of the vinyl, is environmentally friendly. The reason is that such kind of material can be attained just by the chemical reaction. In this progress, it will save much energy of the electrical energy or the chemical energy. For the common salt, the raw material can be found in the natural’s sea. And the common salt is usually gotten from the sea and then use the solar energy to extract and purify. In this process, there is no need for the manufacturer to use the kinetic or electrical energy from the human resources consuming. All of those steps can be finished by the power of nature. What’s more, the energy of attaining the fossil fuel such for gasoline will consume some chemical energy. “Fossil fuels are hydrocarbons, primarily coal, fuel oil or natural gas, formed from the remains of dead plants and animals (Science Daily, Fossil Fuels).” To give more explanation, fossil fuel is a kind of energy that will be find in the dead plants and animals. “Fossil fuel is a general term for buried combustible geologic deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth's crust over hundreds of millions of years (Science Daily, Fossil Fuels).” In this process, what the manufacturer should do to produce vinyl is getting the fossil fuel from the chemical energy. “In common dialogue, the term fossil fuel also includes hydrocarbon-containing natural resources that are not derived from animal or plant sources (Science Daily, Fossil Fuels).” The decayed plants and animals have the ability to concert to the oil, and then they can be used as the function of composition of the vinyl. Not but the least, Vinyl sticker has excellent energy efficiency. It is not exaggeration to say that it can last for over 50 years and has very low maintenance requirements. When a product applies to the market, several products should be renewed and then reproduced because of the widely interest group of people. But in this case, the stickers made by vinyl can last long time and do not need the energy anymore to re-product. All in all, what the embodied energy for vinyl sticker in this step is usually thinking as environmentally friendly because most of the raw material can be attained from nature, which will save numerous energy.
Second of all, in the process of producing, vinyl sticker is energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emission. After preparing all of the raw material from the nature, it is the process to produce and transport. And the main composition of the vinyl sticker is PVC. To be more exact, PVC takes less energy to produce than many products within the competition product, and 20 percent less than other plastics. “PVC also saves fossil fuels. Its principal raw material (nearly 60 percent) is chlorine derived from common salt. PVC building products are highly energy-efficient. For example:
* ENERGY STAR roofing membranes made of PVC reflect solar energy
* ENERGY STAR vinyl window frames conserve energy
* PVC pipe requires less energy to pump water (Vinyl & the Environment, the energy ad environmental benefit of PVC building products).”
And the vinyl sticker also uses PVC as the main step of producing. The material can linked to the composition efficiency with the product itself. It can save CO2 emissions and protect the environment better.
Also, in the process of transportation, most of the vinyl sticker will used the electrical selling method. To be more specific, this kind of selling method can omit the process of establishing the real building and the stores to sell it. After producing the PVC vinyl stickers, the next step of selling it will be post online. And several designers will post several version of the prototype of the vinyl stickers to the online store. If some target customers want to choose any of it prototype using as their choices, they will add to the shopping bag and pay for it. When the seller gets the alert, they will use the shipping company to ship it to the target customer. “I was minding my own business one day looking on eBay to purchase a small peace sign for my pickup. I paid about $5 and when it arrived, I became interested in how it was made. It didn’t seem like you needed to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in machinery to make these things. So, I went on a quest to figure it all out for myself (How I Got Started in the vinyl Sticker Business, Jerry Capote).” This selling process and definitely explain the concern and the exact process. Because vinyl sticker doesn't use to build the real store, what the embodied energy in this part is just the fuel of the plane and the truck to transport it. Each of the vinyl stickers just take a little bit space of the truck and the plane, so the carrier can hold thousands of vinyl stickers at a time, which will enhance the carrier efficiency, and then save the energy for plane and truck maximum. And in this portion, vinyl sticker will consume the kinetic and the electrical energy to the plane and truck, which will save the energy of using machine to establish the buildings.
All in all, because the raw material can be attained by nature, the PVC of the producing process is energy efficiency and the transportation of this product is easy and efficient, the vinyl sticker is such a product that environmentally friendly and will reduce the greenhouse emission in the maximum effort.
“Science Daily, Fossil Fuels”
“Vinyl & the Environment, THE ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF PVC BUILDING PRODUCTS”
“How I Got Started in the vinyl Sticker Business”, Jerry Capote, 2012
Date: November 15, 2016
TA: Alex Webster
Class: Des 40 – A01
Waste and Emissions of the Vinyl Sticker
Vinyl stickers can be seen everywhere you go. From bumpers stickers and signs at restaurant fronts, to the stickers on the laptop, vinyl stickers are used just about everywhere. As with any product that is mass produced, it is beneficial to study how they are made and how each step of the production process affects the environment. Analyzing the Life Cycle Assessment of a product provides this information. According to the United Nations Environment Program, the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a “tool for the systematic evaluation of the environmental aspects of a product or service system through all stages of its life cycle.” There are 6 steps in the cycle of a product which are raw materials acquisition, manufacturing/processing/formulation, distribution/transportation, use/reuse/maintenance, Recycling, and Waste management. By examining the Life Cycle Assessment of a vinyl sticker, one can gain insight on how the wastes and emissions produced in each step affect the environment.
In the first step in the Life Cycle Assessment, raw material acquisition, raw substances are acquired in natural form for use in the primary production of the product. For vinyl, the raw materials are chloride and ethylene. Chloride is obtained by using the process of electrolytic dissociation, while crude oil is used to obtain ethylene. How are these substances acquired? The salt used to produce the chloride is obtained in one of three ways: deep-shaft mining, solution mining, or solar evaporation. Crude oil, also known as petroleum, must be dug up from underground by drills that are powered by burning diesel-fuel. After being acquired and then processed, these raw materials will eventually become Polyvinyl.
Polyvinyl is a man-made resin made from the polymerization of vinyl chloride. To understand the vinyl sticker manufacturing and production process, one must first learn how vinyl itself is made and what waste comes from the process. Vinyl chloride is also known as chloroethene which is created by reacting ethylene with oxygen and hydrogen chloride over a copper catalyst. There are multiple steps to this process.
The first step uses a chlorination reactor to add ethylene to chloride which produces Ethylene Dichloride. The second step of the process is oxychlorination, where nothing is lost. The next step of the manufacturing and production process is cracking, which is a chemical reaction that produces smaller hydrocarbons, including alkanes and alkenes. Ethane and other alkenes are unsaturated hydrocarbons and can be used to make polymers. (Cracking) During this process, the Ethylene Dichloride is placed in a furnace with the vinyl chloride and the hydrogen chloride, which is then sent back to the oxychlorination process for reuse, so that again nothing is wasted. (PVC) The next step of the process involves cooling water so that the vinyl chloride monomer does not evaporate. This requires a large amount of water that is placed in cooling units. The waste that comes from this process is water vapor which goes into the air. The next step in the process is purification, where the vinyl chloride monomer is purified and stored in large spheres. Then polymerization is done in a reactor (called an autoclave) filled with water. The vinyl chloride is pumped into the reactor and then heated. The next step is stripping, which happens after a set amount of time when the reactor is stopped and the contents in the autoclave are brought to a stripper. Here the unreacted vinyl chloride monomer is separated from polymerization. The recovered vinyl chloride monomer is sent for purification and later reused. The last two steps of the process are centrifuging and sieving. Centrifuging is where the polyvinyl chloride is dried, while sieving is where the dried polyvinyl chloride is placed into a mesh to avoid clumps. In addition to the vinyl stickers, the steps that lead to the creation of the film and the adhesive used by the vinyl stickers should also be taken into account. Plasticizer is an ingredient added to the polyvinyl chloride to make the film flexible. Pigment is also added to color the film. (Hudson Display Services Ltd) It was difficult to find information on what the wastes were that came from the machines that create the adhesives.
After the manufacturing process, Vinyl chloride monomer is placed in large silos. Then they are packaged in bags, stored in warehouses and transported by large trucks. In a letter by William B. Mann IV Assistant Chief Hydrologist for Operations, he states that hydrochloric acid is transported by a coated glass container with warm clients and placed in coolers to protect them from excessive heat. They are securely fastened in the vehicles transporting them. (Safety) The waste and emissions with from these vehicles, as with most vehicles, includes releasing carbon monoxide into the air.
The products that are at the end of their life cycle can normally be recycled into new products once separated and cleaned. Polyvinyl chloride waste can be handled in three ways: recycling, disposing with energy, and disposing in a landfill. The applications which incorporate heat stabilizers based on lead and cadmium are almost all long-life applications, but in many cases, they are already entering the waste stream and are being recycled to some extent.
The PVC industry has become active in organizing collection systems and in recycling these wastes, so the products are used in making new products. Most products at the end of their life cycle end up as landfill, but research has found that polyvinyl chloride creates a small amount of waste. (PVC) Polyvinyl waste in landfill sites is predominantly from household and packaging. Vinyl stickers create a very small amount of waste that ends up as landfill. Although most of the Polyvinyl chloride waste is recyclable, there is still a small amount that is not able to be broken down due to the ingredients that are placed in the product. (PVC) Some research have found that the Polyvinyl chloride landfill waste does not hurt the environment, but there are many who believe that PVC products do can cause harm to people and the environment. According to Eco-Novice and the findings of The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), “PVC is the most toxic plastic for children’s health and the environment." (Eco-Novice) This site includes many other ideas on why PVC’s remaining wastes affect the environment. When garbabe is incinerated, additional dioxins are released into the environment, and when PVC products are accidentally mixed with non-chloric plastics, they contaminate the entire recycling process.
In conclusion, researching the Life Cycle Assessment of the vinyl sticker produced a lot of information on vinyl itself. It was a difficult to find detailed information on the creation of vinyl stickers. Most of the sites and sources had information on creating a do-it-yourself vinyl sticker at home, but less information on how they are created professionally. Through completing this research assignment, I learned more about Vinyl, also known as Polyvinyl Chloride. We see that there are many different steps that go into making vinyl, from acquiring the raw materials from nature, to the processes of creating the products, how they are transported/stored, and at the end of its life cycle, how the products are recycled and the wastes that come from each of these steps.
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