UK PVC manufacturers sign environment charter

Two UK PVC manufacturers have signed a Charter designed to demonstrate to stakeholders and customers how the industry is developing its environmental performance. The Charter will initially focus on the manufacture, use and disposal of packaging made from PVC.

The Charter is a joint initiative between the manufacturers, EVC and Hydro Polymers, and a group of retailers including CWS, Tesco, Waitrose and Asda. Together they have formed the PVC Coordination Group chaired by the Forum for the Future Director Jonathan Porritt.

Greenpeace was a founder member of the group when it was initially set up as the PVC Retail Working Group, but has since withdrawn from the process.

‘PVC is high on the hit-list of many environmental campaigners,” said Porritt. “It’s also high on the list of many businesses as the material that most closely meets their particular specification. The purpose of the Coordination Group is to see if those conflicting priorities can be reconciled and, if so, how.’

“The Charter will make the environmental consequences of producing, buying, using and disposing of PVC much more transparent,” added Erik Bichard, Director of the NCBE. “It includes measures for current improvements and the requirement for considering future strategies in a market facing increasing scrutiny. In the future, the Charter may become the method by which retailers can assess whether the PVC they are using has been produced within a verifiable programme of environmental standards. This approach could form the basis for environmental improvements in other materials and sectors.”

The Charter was devised and will be developed by the Salford-based National Centre for Business and Ecology (NCBE) and is an extension of its earlier report on PVC in packaging and construction materials: an assessment of their impact on human health and the environment. This earlier study, which reviewed existing evidence ‘on the balance of probabilities’ rather than on the precautionary principle, concluded that there was no overriding scientific reason for retailers to immediately abandon the use of PVC in packaging or building materials, provided the retailers could satisfy themselves that the PVC they purchased was responsibly manufactured and would not have detrimental effects when it was discarded.

The Charter commits signatories to seven key actions:

  To support the development of, and comply with, an Eco-efficiency Code of Practice for the manufacture of PVC.

  To regularly review their operations in the wider social, environmental and economic context, and to explore all possible futures for PVC. The results of these reviews will be summarised and made available to all interested parties.

To examine and pursue mechanisms for bringing about environmental improvements in the performance of suppliers and customers in the PVC supply chain. (Work will initially focus on packaging, with the expectation of rolling the programme out across other supply chains involving PVC.)

  To develop schemes and programmes, in association with other relevant organisations, that reduces the potential for end-of-life products containing PVC to accumulate in the environment. (Again, this initiative will focus on packaging in the first instance, but will extend to other PVC products following preliminary studies.)

  To continue to participate in, and finance, research on the environmental and health affects associated with PVC manufacture, use and disposal.

  To demonstrate compliance with the Charter in an agreed manner.

  To review the Charter on an annual basis and update it as required.

Work on the Eco-efficiency Code of Practice has already started, and agreement on that is expected in July 1999. The other items are being carried out under a rolling programme which will extend into the year 2000.

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