GM emphasised PVC’s shortcomings in terms of quality and durability, but did not allude to the vinyl plastic’s poor environmental reputation as a factor in its decision. Nevertheless, Greenpeace International has commended GM. “This is a very significant move by GM,” Andrew Davies of Greenpeace International told edie, “and we call on GM to expand on its announcement and phase out PVC from all parts of their vehicles.

The news that GM has asked its suppliers to source alternative plastics for use in vehicle interiors was confirmed in an article published by Plastics News on 20 September. In it, William Shikany, director of GM’s Interior Center, cited problems with PVC durability, leaching of PVC plasticisers and problems with weight as reasons for the decision. According to Plastics News, the decision to phase out PVC in interiors was taken in January, with GM’s first vehicles with non-PVC interiors produced in May.

Many environmental groups are campaigning for restrictions on or the 100% elimination of PVC, citing environmental damage throughout the PVC lifecycle. Manufacture of PVC involves the creation and emission of dioxin, a known carcinogen that has been found to travel long distances.

There are also significant questions regarding the impact on human health from plasticisers – or softeners – in soft PVC, including children’s toys and teething products. Transmission of endocrine-disrupting properties from plasticisers is suspected.

Disposal of PVC also poses problems. “PVC is not really recyclable,” says Greenpeace’s Davies, who points out that the proposed EU Directive concerning the recycling of end-of-life vehicles has, thus far, side-stepped the issue of what to do with PVC. Incineration or accidental burning of PVC creates yet more dioxin emissions.

GM’s decision regarding PVC coincides with another announcement by the company relating to environmental issues. GM and its suppliers are implementing environmental management systems (EMS) with the view to gaining ISO 14001 certification by the end of 2002. ISO 14001 is an international standard involving independent audits of companies’ processes to reduce energy consumption, improve water treatment and air emissions and implement environmentally-friendly waste disposal programmes, including recycling.

Ford has also announced that it has asked its suppliers to achieve ISO 14001.

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