Dutch government tightens screws on PVC

Plan calls for substitution where recycling not possible, restriction of additives

The Dutch government has called on PVC producers and users to boost PVC recycling, phase out the use of lead stabilisers and restrict the use of phthalate softeners. The new policy envisages a negotiated agreement to achieve its aims. It was presented jointly by the environment and economic affairs ministries on Friday following a two-year study of environmental impacts of PVC additives and incineration.

This concluded that burning chlorine-containing substances in municipal waste incinerators reduces the efficiency of energy recovery. Further, it found that significant quantities of heavy metal-containing residues are created where "dry" acid gas scrubbers are employed, which is the case for around half of Dutch waste incinerators.

While admitting uncertainty over how far PVC contributes to either of these impacts, the new policy aims to reduce the amount going to municipal waste incinerators, with a further review of the situation promised in 2000.

Increased recycling of PVC pipes and window frames are also envisaged, and PVC producers and importers have been asked to make a plan by mid-next year to recycle other PVC products. Where more environmentally friendly alternatives are available, the government also wants industry to reduce the use of PVC in short life-cycle applications, such as packaging, where recycling is not feasible for economic or technical reasons.

The use of lead as a PVC stabiliser must be cut by a third from 1995 levels by 2000, and phased out for all but essential applications by 2002. The phase-out must be achieved without increasing the use of organo-tin compounds - which are also toxic.

The government is taking a more cautious approach with the use of phthalates, used to soften PVC in some applications. Phthalates are suspected of causing hormone disrupting effects in animals, but the Dutch government says it will wait for the results of a study into their effects by the European Commission before deciding what to do. In the meantime, it wants industry to restrict their use and launch its own investigations into effects and alternatives.

Dutch PVC producers have stressed that the report has positive aspects too. The government has not called for new measures on environmental impacts of PVC during production or concluded that they contribute significantly to dioxin formation during incineration. However, the industry has also accepted that it faces "urgent challenges" over recycling, waste and additives.

Environmentalists are less happy with the new policy. Four Dutch groups yesterday accused the government of setting out all the arguments against PVC and then failing to act decisively. They called for a ban on PVC use, saying good alternatives are available for all uses.

Follow Up:
Dutch environment ministry, tel: +31 70 339 3939.

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