PVC industry pre-empts EC policy paper on waste management

The European PVC industry has created its own voluntary agreement to increase the amount of end-of-life PVC recycling and to end the use of cadmium as a stabiliser.

The PVC industry has criticised the accuracy of five EC-commissioned studies on PVC waste, but has nonetheless demonstrated that it’s concerned about the risk of increasing regulations by offering to improve the eco-efficiency of its production processes and to improve waste management. The industry is hoping that the voluntary agreement, now signed by the four trade associations representing the industry, will make the EC back down from placing any restrictions on the production and disposal of PVC in its upcoming PVC policy paper.

The voluntary agreement includes the following commitments to improve PVC production:

  • compliance with industry-set environmental standards for the production of vinyl chloride monomer and suspension PVC by mid 2000, with scope for further factory improvements to be investigated in 2001
  • compliance with standards for production of emulsion PVC by 2003
  • targets will be set for reductions in resource consumption in the production of PVC resin, plasticisers and stabilisers

The voluntary agreement sets out more substantial commitments with regard to the use of stabilisers:

  • appropriate risk reduction measures will be taken if the risk assessments of the major phthalates (see related story), due to be completed by the end of the year, recommend changes
  • completion of a database on lifecycle analysis of plasticisers by the end of 2000
  • phase-out of cadmium “in all stabiliser systems placed on the European market” within one year. However, recycling of cadmium-stabilised PVC will continue as a way of avoiding cadmium’s dissemination into the environment
  • the PVC industry will carry out initial risk assessments into lead-based stabilisers by 2004 and will research alternatives – it expects that use of lead-based stabiliser will reduce from 120,000 tonnes in 1999 to 80,000 in 2010
  • yearly statistics showing which stabilisers are purchased by converters will be published, along with statistics on stabilisers used in window and profile production, pipe and cable applications

On the issue of end-of-life PVC products’ recycling, the industry’s voluntary agreement demonstrates that the EC study findings were correct – end-of-life recycling is only viable for some applications, namely PVC pipes and fittings and PVC window frames. The PVC industry states that it will investigate the feasibility of creating ‘take back’ schemes for PVC cables, flooring and roofing membranes, but that “more work is needed in developing suitable logistics, technologies and reuse applications”.

For the time being, the PVC industry has committed itself to the following recycling targets:

  • 25% recycling of end-of-life PVC pipes and pipe fittings as well as window profile waste by 2003
  • 50% recycling of the same products by 2005

Backing up another EC-commissioned study, the PVC industry agreement acknowledges that more research is needed to allow for the expansion of incineration of PVC waste, whether by municipalities or by industry-backed incinerators capable of dealing with “PVC rich” waste. PVC producers have agreed to commit euros 3 million by 2001 in a pilot project which will seek to recover chlorine and hydrocarbons during incineration of PVC rich waste.

Overall, the PVC industry’s voluntary agreement will lead to annual funding from industry of up to euros 25 million.

The four organisations that have signed the agreement are the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers, European Council of Plasticisers & Intermediates, European Stabilisers Producers Association and European Plastics Converters.

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