Commission launches public consultation on future of PVC

The European Commission has launched a consultation exercise on the future of PVC, with the publication of its Green Paper evaluating its environmental issues, in order to adopt a comprehensive strategy early in 2001.

There are two main issues within the paper: the use of additives such as lead, cadmium and phthalates, with questions being raised about measures to reduce environmental and human health impacts; and, secondly, how best to manage PVC waste.

“PVC waste is likely to increase by 80% by 2020,” said Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, welcoming the Green Paper. “This is a problem we must address now. The Green Paper is a major step in launching for the first time a Europe-wide public consultation on the environmental issues of PVC, which is one of the most widespread plastics in use today. We look forward to hearing the views of industry, NGOs, the European Parliament, and the Member States themselves.”

Enterprise Commissioner, Erkki Liikanen, also welcomed the consultation document. “We also have to address the environmental issues posed by certain additives used in PVC. It is important for us, at this stage, to keep an open mind on the options outlined in the Green Paper. A range of measures is available to implement a Community strategy on PVC and will have to be considered during the consultation process.”

PVC is one of the most widespread plastics used today, with about 5.5 million tonnes being produced in Europe in 1998. The building sector accounts for nearly 60% of PVC use, with applications such as in packaging, household and automotive appliances accounting for the rest.

Dioxins are released during both the PVC production process and the burning of it at the end of its life. According to Greenpeace, attempts to recycle PVC have proved difficult, so much of it ends up in landfills. Chemical additives in PVC, such as pthalates, have also been linked to cancer and kidney damage, and may interfere with the reproductive system and development, says Greenpeace.

According to the Commission, about 3.6 million tonnes of post-consumer PVC waste are generated each year in Europe, with an increase of about 80% expected over the next 20 years due to the long average life spans of certain PVC products from the 1970’s and 80’s.

Representatives of the PVC industry have not welcomed the green paper, saying that it is unsatisfactory, going against the wealth of information collected by the Commission.

“We believe that any in-depth review of a material must consider its whole lifecycle, rather than being confined to one aspect such as waste management,” said Jean-Pierre Pleska, Chairman of the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM) and the PVC Industry Voluntary Commitment Management Committee. “In addition, such a review needs to be set against a clear understanding of alternative materials and should also take account of socio-economic value.”

“We are confident that implementation of the Voluntary Commitment, already underway, will address questions contained within the Green Paper,” said Pleska (see related story). “It will deliver improved product stewardship more quickly and effectively than any other approach because it has been agreed by all of the partners within the PVC industry.”

Environmental campaigners welcomed the Green Paper as an imprtant step towards effective action against the many environmental hazards of PVC. “We are glad to see that the European Commission is taking the enormous environmental problems related to PVC seriously and intends to act against them,” said Axel Singhofen, EU Toxics Advisor for Greenpeace International. “The evidence against PVC presented in the Green Paper is overwhelming – there can be only one consequence from it: PVC has to go.”

A public hearing on the future of PVC will be organised in October 2000. Reactions to the Green Paper should be sent by the end of November to: Mr Krämer, Head of the waste management unit (DG ENV) and Mr Schulte Braucks, Head of the chemicals unit (DG ENTR), 200 rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200, B-1049 Bruxelles, Belgium; email [email protected] ; fax +32 2 299 1068 / +32 2 295 0281

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie