German agency calls for soft PVC phase-out

Lack of alternative plasticisers implies ban under "precautionary, sustainable" management

The use of flexible PVC should be phased out because harmful plasticising agents can't be prevented from leaching from it and alternatives are unavailable, according to a new German environment agency study. The agency is the second such EU body to push for a ban on soft PVC after similar calls by the Danish environmental protection agency. The report has been seized upon by Greenpeace as ammunition in its campaign against PVC use in general.

The agency's case study of PVC is part of wider review of "sustainable, precautionary and waste stream-based" substance management. Applying its general conclusions to PVC, the agency says that soft, or flexible, PVC should be substituted. It also finds that cadmium and lead should be phased out as stabilisers in rigid PVC, but concludes that rigid PVC should not be generally phased out since this "would not result in a substantial reduction of environmental risks".

The German PVC industry, which produces around 200,000 tonnes of flexible PVC annually for use in products such as floor tiles and packaging, has dismissed the study. "We are not convinced by and are against its contents," Volker Hoffman of the industry group AgPU told ENDS Daily today. The study uses old data and has not been peer-reviewed, he said, adding that a recent consultancy report for the industry was more in tune with the "climate and ethics" of the PVC debate. This report was conducted with NGO participation but did not recommend banning or restricting the use of PVC (ENDS Daily 29 April).

Nevertheless, Greenpeace has pounced on the report, along with a recent closure order against an Italian PVC manufacturing plant after an accidental toxic release (ENDS Daily 30 June) as evidence of a "certain momentum" towards the demise of PVC and reiterated calls for the EU to legislate for a phase-out.

The European Commission is currently developing a "horizontal" strategy on all uses of PVC, the conclusions of which have already been hotly contested long before they have been finalised (ENDS Daily 13 April) (ENDS Daily 15 April). A Commission official told ENDS Daily today that the German agency's report was an "important document" and would "add an extra element" to the debate. The Commission would publish its PVC strategy later this year, he said.

Follow Up:
German environment agency, tel: +49 30 89 030; AgPU, tel: +49 228 917 830. References: Press release for: Fields of Action and Criteria for a Precautionary and Sustainable Substance Control Policy, {illustrated by the example of PVC}, (in German).

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