EC studies confirm environmental and economic hazards of PVC disposal

Studies published by the EC have confirmed what environmentalists have been saying for years: that the disposal of PVC waste, through landfill, recycling or incineration has serious environmental and economic consequences.

The EC studies show that landfilling PVC waste releases toxic chemicals that could persist longer than the landfill’s barrier, that incineration of PVC leads to an increase – rather than a decrease – in levels of hazardous waste and that recycling of PVC waste will not make a significant contribution to the management of PVC waste.

The studies were contracted by the EC in 1998, after it decided to extend its examination of the role of PVC in waste streams beyond the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive. The EC therefore commissioned these studies on PVC with a view to drawing up a horizontal directive on PVC, which would apply to all other Directives affected by PVC.

The next step is for the EC to release a green paper for consultation with industry, NGOs and other interested parties and to draw up a proposal for the horizontal directive.

The results confirm findings regarding PVC published by Greenpeace in its 1998 report, PVC plastic, a looming waste crisis. Greenpeace has demanded that the EC initiate measures to combat the environmental hazards of PVC in preparation for a full phase out of PVC.

“It is no longer a matter of whether or not PVC should be phased out,” said Axel Singhofen, Greenpeace International EU Toxics Advisor, “but only of how fast it should happen.”

Mats Knapp, Greenpeace International’s PVC Coordinator, told edie that the EC would act upon the reports, but complained about the amount of time the EC had taken to publish them. “The EC has always said it would act on this, but we feel it has taken a long time. We urge the Commission to issue a green paper as soon as possible, but it will be at least six months to a year before a proposal is released, which must then go before the European Parliament.”

The main findings of the EC studies on PVC are:

  • mechanical recycling will not contribute significantly to the management of PVC post-consumer wastes in the next decades, reaching approximately 18% of the total in 2020
  • incineration of 1 kg of PVC leads in most cases to the formation of more than 1kg of hazardous wastes. PVC incineration will also increase the production of leachates and leachable salts from these wastes and create additional costs of up to euros 395 per tonne of PVC incinerated
  • landfilling of PVC releases phthalate softeners. These substances are expected to last longer than technical barrier of the landfill of 80 years
  • landfilling of PVC will contribute to the formation of dioxins and furans in accidental landfill fires
  • the amount of PVC waste is projected to almost double in the next 20 years from the current 4.1 million tonnes to 7.2 million tonnes annually

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