MEPs get even tougher on PVC

Members of the European Parliament have echoed EC opinion that voluntary approaches to regulating the environmental impacts of PVC are insufficient and have called for even tougher measures, to the dismay of manufacturers.

On 3 April, the European Parliament backed calls from the Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy to adopt a Green Paper on environmental issues relating to PVC (see related story), which demands a substitution policy, starting with a ‘rapid’ replacement of softened PVC, and also a ‘polluter pays’ approach to waste. Despite a call from PVC manufacturers and centre-right MEPs, who called for a voluntary commitment to environmental improvement, the parliament resolutely voted out a call for such an agreement to form part of EU PVC policy.

PVC, which has come under fire, with its effects on human health and the environment being linked, for example, to fertility problems and emissions of highly toxic dioxins, will now see its manufacturers charged for any additional costs generated by the presence of PVC in waste, such as a need for better filter equipment and costs caused by corrosion. Owing to the problems PVC causes during incineration, Parliament wants the Commission to bring forward legislation requiring separate waste collection of PVC products and the separation of hard and soft PVC, with the hard polymer being landfilled because of its high chlorine content and soft PVC being incinerated as otherwise there is a risk that phthalates will be released.

Parliament condemned the lack of action by the PVC industry in combating toxic additives, particularly cadmium and lead, and decided to phase out useage of both and to ban imports of them from third countries. It also wants an outright ban on the use of cadmium as a stabiliser and is calling on the Commission to amend its relevant Directive to do so. On the subject of phthalates, which are often used as plasticisers, but are suspected of mimicking hormones and causing fertility problems, Parliament wants the Commission to examine alternatives and establish targets to reduce their use, particularly in medical equipment.

MEPs also want the percentage of PVC waste which is recycled to be increased and are therefore calling for research in the area of chemical recycling. They also propose the introduction of compulsory marking so that PVC can be distinguished more easily from other plastic waste to facilitate collection and sorting, and are calling for legislation as this “cannot be left to the goodwill of the industry within the framework of the voluntary commitment”.

“An overall assessment of the recommendations made by the Parliament would suggest that they are motivated by political considerations,” commented Jean-Pierre De Grève, Executive Director of ECVM, the industry body representing to the 21,000 businesses across Europe involved with PVC and their 530,000 employees. “They would clearly have a detrimental impact undermining the future of many small and medium sized enterprises.” He added, somewhat optimistically that ECVM is confident that a voluntary commitment would still be endorsed.

De Grève also called the recommendation on marking of all plastics “unnecessary” and said it would “not help increase recycling rates or separation of waste because collection schemes are most effective when undertaken on an application by application basis, rather than by individual material types”. He added that Parliament’s request therefore “calls into question the basis of a number of existing regulations”.

Greenpeace welcomed Parliament’s vote which it said “recognised the dangers associated with PVC production, use and disposal and voted in the interests of the environment and public health”. “This is an important step towards effective action against the many hazards of PVC plastic and the use of safer materials,” the group said in a statement. “Evidence that PVC harms the environment and human health is overwhelming…there is now only one way forward: PVC has got to go.”

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