EU Commission moots PVC substitution

Consultation document "misguided" says industry; a "major step forward" says Greenpeace

The European Commission today launched a public consultation on the future of PVC with a green paper outlining environmental issues raised by the polymer and the range of possible actions to reduce them. Though the Commission has not indicated preferred options, some legislation is now clearly likely in an EU PVC strategy planned for early 2001. The European PVC industry has slammed the paper as "misguided and unsatisfactory".

Drafted jointly by the Commission's enterprise and environment directorates, the paper suggests various ways to overcome the environment problems raised by PVC. They include mandatory PVC recycling, targets for chemical recycling, the "internalisation" of costs associated with PVC incineration, diversion of waste from incineration or the encouragement of better flue gas cleaning technologies.

In the most worrying reference for the PVC industry, however, the green paper also asks whether PVC should be substituted by other materials in certain applications. Officials said yesterday that any eventual policy would have to be based on sound scientific studies showing that replacement materials were environmentally preferable, but was a potential "longer-term" option. It was too early to say which applications might be affected, they said.

PVC poses two types of problems, according to the paper: those related to additives such as phthalate softeners and lead and cadmium stabilisers, and those arising from PVC waste management. It goes on to reprise the findings of a set of five Commission-led studies carried out on PVC (see separate article, today's issue). These revealed that PVC waste generation would increase by 80% over twenty years. Mechanical recycling was not a long-term solution, chemical feedstock recycling was too expensive, and waste incineration produced large quantities of hazardous waste, they concluded.

A group of four PVC industry associations fiercely criticised the Commission's paper today. "[Its] proposals...go against the wealth of information collected by the Commission, including the...studies themselves, whose evident outcomes show that PVC-specific measures are unnecessary," they said in a statement.

They said the issues raised would be addressed satisfactorily by a recent industry-wide voluntary commitment to environmental improvement (ENDS Daily 26 May). This would "deliver improved product stewardship more quickly and effectively than any other approach," they said. The green paper endorses the commitment but says it is no more than a "first step" after which "constant progression" would be needed.

Greenpeace has welcomed the green paper as an "important step towards effective action" on PVC, and claims that the "writing is now on the wall" for PVC manufacturers. "We call on the Commission to focus its future strategy on rapid and complete substitution of PVC," it said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, see also the green paper and a press release and the Economic evaluation of PVC waste management; ECVM, tel: +32 2 676 7211, see also their PVC website which includes a press release; Greenpeace toxics campaign, tel: +32 2 280 1400, and press release.

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