MEPs propose tough action on PVC

MEPs have adopted a Green Paper on environmental issues relating to PVC by a large majority, calling for a ‘polluter pays’ approach to waste.

On 20 March, the Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy adopted by a large majority a report on the Green Paper by Italian MEP Guido Sacconi, in which it calls for the ‘polluter pays’ principle to apply to PVC waste. PVC has come under fire in the paper, with its effects on human health and the environment being linked to fertility problems and emissions of highly toxic dioxins.

The Green Paper (see related story) has two objectives: to make a scientific assessment of the environmental impact of PVC throughout its lifecycle and to consider a number of options to reduce the most serious effects. The Paper, which is to be voted on next month, examines PVC products, the use of additives and waste management. PVC is one of the most widespread plastics used today, with about 5.5 million tonnes being produced in Europe in 1998.

Owing to the problems PVC causes during incineration, the committee wants the Commission to bring forward legislation requiring separate waste collection of PVC products. The report also calls for research in the field of incineration, to include ways of recovering harmful hydrogen chloride. Hard and soft PVC, it says, should be separated, with hard PVC being landfilled because of its high chlorine content and soft PVC being incinerated as otherwise there is a risk that phthalates will be released.

The committee regards the PVC industry’s action on toxic additives in PVC, such as cadmium and lead, as “insufficient and therefore wants Community legislation to phase out cadmium and lead-based stabilisers and to ban imports of them from third countries”. Cadmium was one substance named by the EC in a recent list of 32 it wants phased out as soon as possible (see related story).

With regard to phthalates, which are often used as plasticisers (for manufacturing flexible PVC products) but are suspected of mimicking hormones and causing fertility problems, the committee wants the Commission to examine alternatives and establish targets to reduce their use, particularly in medical equipment. The committee regrets that the Commission has not carried out any lifecycle analysis of PVC products and alternative products and calls on it to bring forward a long-term strategy involving the introduction of substitution policies.

The committee also wants the percentage of PVC waste which is recycled to be increased and calls for more research in the area of chemical recycling. It also proposes the introduction of compulsory marking so that PVC can be distinguished more easily from other plastic waste to facilitate recycling. However, it believes legislation should only be adopted if precise objectives for the recovery of waste cannot be met through voluntary commitments by industry.

Representatives of the PVC industry have not welcomed the green paper, saying that it is unsatisfactory and goes 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) “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.”

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