PVC put under Basel convention spotlight

Industry, NGOs, clash over whether PVC should be covered by international waste trade ban

The chemical industry and environmental group Greenpeace have clashed over PVC during official discussions on what status the chlorinated plastic should have under the Basel convention on trade in hazardous wastes.

At a meeting of the Basel convention technical working group in Switzerland, some 60 countries debated the issue of halogenated polymer waste and particularly PVC. Their discussion followed presentations by Greenpeace and the European Chemical Industry Council, CEFIC.

PVC waste is currently "unassigned" on a holding list under the convention. At the working group meeting, industry argued for it to be defined as non-hazardous. Greenpeace insisted that it was hazardous and should therefore be subject to the ban on waste shipments from OECD to non-OECD countries agreed by Basel convention parties earlier this year (ENDS Daily 27 February).

Because they are organohalogens, PVC and other chlorinated polymers are included in annex 1 of the Basel convention, meaning that there is a "rebuttable presumption" that they are toxic. Greenpeace and some Basel convention parties argue that PVC also exhibits one of the "hazard characteristics" defined under the convention, meaning that it should be assigned to annex 8 of wastes to be controlled.

The hazard characteristic - H13 - covers any waste material capable after disposal of yielding another substance with any of the other defined hazard characteristics. A key problem being tackled by the working group, according to the convention secretariat, is that there is still no definitive interpretation of the exact meaning of H13. "It can have a very wide or a very narrow interpretation," Pierre Portas told ENDS Daily.

The working group "noted the complexity of the issue" and requested further information, according to a draft report of the meeting passed to ENDS Daily and Basel convention officials. Participants welcomed an indication by industry that it was preparing guidelines for the sound management of waste polymers. Some countries suggested that industry should work with environmental NGOs to prepare them.

Following the meeting, the two main protagonists in the PVC debate have made widely differing interpretations of its outcome. In a statement, the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM) welcomed the working group's "key conclusion...that halogenated polymers and PVC should be regarded as non-hazardous".

"They are lying," retorted Greenpeace today. If the ECVM's claim had been true, Axel Singhofen of the campaigning group's EU unit told ENDS Daily, then the working group would have had to assign PVC to the annex 9 list of non-hazardous wastes. Instead, he pointed out, the draft report of the meeting shows that the working group decided that it needed more time to review additional information "before taking a decision".

Representatives of the ECVM were unavailable today to comment on the disparity.

Follow Up:
UN Basel convention, tel: +41 22 979 9111; ECVM, tel: +32 2 676 7211; Greenpeace, tel: +32 2 280 1400.

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