Following a visit to a PVC manufacturing site last month, Green Party environment spokesperson Michaela Hustedt issued a brief statement which appeared to mark a new stance. Although PVC was not the Greens' favourite material, the statement said, the party had to "acknowledge new developments".
The industry association, Working Group for PVC and Environment (AgPU) claims that the statement is an important indication that the Greens are softening their opposition to the plastic. Efforts by industry to move away from conflict to positive debate were bearing fruit, Werner Preusker of AgPU told ENDS Daily. Mr Preusker went on to claim that the debate on PVC was now more fact-based in Germany and the Netherlands than at EU level.
Last month, the association completed a two-year process of dialogue with various stakeholders, including environmental groups, which culminated in a new report on PVC and sustainability produced by Prognos, a consultancy based in Basel, Switzerland. Asking "how viable is PVC for the future," the study reaches what it calls "very complex answers" to this question, which nevertheless do not include a recommendation for its use to be restricted or banned.
The study presents "sustainability portfolios" for PVC-use in four significant product groups - PVC window frames, pipes, packaging films and cables. Its analysis includes not only environmental factors such as emissions of toxic substances and contribution to global warming, but also social and economic factors, such as contribution to employment.
PVC windows receive the most positive rating, being judged as "relatively favourable" in the short and medium terms in comparison to the alternatives of wooden or aluminium windows. Looking ahead to 2050, the study concludes that the relative balance could shift away from PVC due to the non-renewable nature of oil, one of its main raw materials, even with intensified recycling efforts.
The study sees "more favourable prospects" for drinking water and wastewater pipes made from PVC or high density polyethylene in the short and medium term than for pipes made of clay or cast iron. Again, the balance is expected to shift towards the second group in the long term.
PVC cables are given "favourable" prospects only in the short term. Even in the medium term, the study concludes, the ecological disadvantages of PVC relative to polyethylene cables will "become noticeable".
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