PVC-Free Future: A Review of Restrictions and PVC free Policies Worldwide

Publication - 30 June, 2003
This report lists initiatives to phase out or restrict PVC and chlorine that have been taken by national and local governments, other organisations, and companies. It also outlines international political agreements on chemicals used in PVC or which are by- products of PVC. It is organised in two sections, political and market.

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Executive summary: Greenpeace has been campaigning for the phase out of organochlorines since 1987, because their production leads to the release of hazardous substances which are persistent, toxic or bioaccumulative. The production of PVC plastic uses the largest proportion of chlorine produced (30%) and is a major source of hazardous substances in the environment, both during manufacture and disposal. As well as using chlorine as a raw material, PVC contains many additives, some of which are also hazardous, such as heavy metal stabilisers or phthalate softeners. Greenpeace has focussed specifically on PVC since the early 1990's and is calling for its material substitution with cleaner alternatives, as a way of eliminating these hazardous substances.As a result, a large number of governments, local authorities, businesses, and various other organisations have agreed to restrict or phase out PVC and chlorine to various extents. This report is a compilation of these restrictions, to the best of our knowledge. It demonstrates the feasibility of replacing chlorine and PVC with cleaner alternatives and shows that this is actually happening at an increasing level, in a large number of different countries and businesses.This report is in two sections. The first lists the many international agreements on the elimination and reduction of hazardous substances, in particular organochlorines, and lists specific actions taken by national and local governments, and other organisations, to restrict chlorine and PVC. The second section lists the companies that have taken varying degrees of action to phase out the use of PVC: some have virtually eliminated PVC, such as IKEA, LEGO, and Hennes & Mauritz, others have more recently initiated a phase out, such as NIKE. Summary of Political InitiativesOver the years there have been a number of international agreements on hazardous substances, and organochlorines specifically. The most notable recent agreement is the OSPAR agreement to 'move towards the target of cessation of discharges emissions and losses of hazardous substances by the year 2020', which is known as the 'generational goal'. This agreement was made by 14 countries discharging into the North East Atlantic, and the EU.The most significant global initiative on hazardous substances is the agreement of a legally binding global convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which has prioritised 12 POPs for action, including dioxins and furans. The convention was signed in Stockholm in May 2001.Restrictions on PVC by cities and communities began in the German town of Bielefeld in 1986. Since then numerous restrictions have been enacted in Germany, and there are currently 274 communities and 6 Federal States which have confirmed their policies in writing. In the early 1990's many local authorities in Austria, The Netherlands and the Nordic countries also restricted PVC. In the late 1990's the trend spread to Spain, where 62 Spanish cities have been declared PVC free, and to the UK, Japan and the USA.Sweden was the first country to propose national restrictions on PVC generally; in 1995 the Swedish Parliament voted to phase out both soft and rigid PVC, which led to following comment by the Swedish Minister for the Environment, Anna Lindh; 'The question is not whether to phase out PVC, but how to phase it out'. Acting on this commitment was postponed until 1999, when a new chemical strategy was made law in an Environment Bill, to implement the OSPAR generational goal. The strategy includes deadlines for voluntary phase outs of several PVC additives and a ban on phthalates in toys for children under three.In Denmark a new strategy on PVC was announced in June 1999 by Environment Minister Svend Auken, partly in response to criticism of the voluntary efforts to recycle PVC waste initiated in 1991. The strategy includes a sales taxes of 2 Danish Kroner per kilogram of PVC and 7 Danish Kroner per kilogram of phthalates. The aim of the strategy is to limit incineration of PVC and includes an action plan for reducing and phasing out phthalates in soft plastics, a coming ban on lead stabilisers, substitution of PVC-products that are difficult to separate from the common waste stream and tight measures to avoid downcycling of PVC waste into products of inferior quality - effectively disqualifying several current downcycling practices.Most recently, in Germany the environment agency published a paper in June 1999 which called for an end to the use of phthalate softeners and a gradual phase-out of the use of soft PVC. Partly as a response to these various national and local initiatives to restrict PVC in European countries, in July 2000 the European Union published a Green Paper on PVC which assesses various environmental and health issues related in particular to PVC waste management and presents a number of options to reduce those impacts. The European Parliament debated the Green Paper and called on the Commission to act on a number of issues, including a substitution policy and the replacement of soft PVC. As a result, the European Commission is expected to publish a White Paper outlining a strategy on PVC.In December 1999, the European Union agreed to an emergency ban on six phthalates in soft PVC teething toys. Since 1997, bans on phthalates in soft PVC toys have taken effect in Austria, France, Greece, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and the Fiji Islands. Japan is in the process of implementing a ban. Recommendations for withdrawal of vinyl toys have also been made by the Belgian, Danish, Dutch, German, Filipino, US and Canadian health authorities. Summary of Market InitiativesAn increasing number of companies are phasing out the use of PVC and chlorinated substances, in response to consumer demand, Greenpeace campaigns and pressure of regulations (in particular on the recyclability of materials, and stringent emission standards for incinerators). In many cases companies have also switched to alternative materials for functional reasons. The trend began in the early 1990's in Scandinavia and the German speaking countries. Furniture retailer IKEA and toy manufacturer LEGO were among the first companies to initiate a phase out, and are now virtually PVC free. At the same time supermarkets in these countries began to phase out PVC in packaging, for example Migros in Switzerland and Tengelmann in Germany; supermarkets in countries like Austria and Germany are now virtually PVC-free for packaging. The rejection of the use of PVC in packaging spread to France and Spain, with a major proportion of water bottling companies switching from the use of PVC to PET, including market leaders Nestlé (owner of brand names Perrier, Vittel and others) and Evian.In parallel, with increasing numbers of local authorities going PVC free, many new buildings were built with minimal use of PVC (for example avoiding PVC windows, doors, pipes, floorings, and cabling). The highest profile of these projects is the Sydney 2000 Olympics, which has avoided the use of PVC wherever possible, as well as incorporating many other environmental objectives such as the use of renewable energy.Following the launch in 1997 of Greenpeace's 'Play Safe' campaign about the dangers of soft PVC toys, a large number of Toy companies are now phasing out the use of PVC, for example Italian market leader Chicco, Japans largest toy producer Bandai, Playmobil of Germany and Ravensburger of the Netherlands. A larger numbers of retailers have withdrawn these soft PVC toys from their shelves. In Australia, Olympics sponsors McDonald's Australia have phased out soft PVC toys in their 'Happy Meals'.The move to phase out PVC is now expanding into other sectors, and other regions of the world, notably in the USA and Japan. Shoe and sports equipment manufacturers Nike announced in 1998 that they had begun a phase out. Telecommunications companies German Telekom and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone of Japan are also going PVC free. The world's largest auto manufacturer, General Motors (GM), announced its decision to eliminate PVC from its auto interiors in September 1999, and leading electronics manufacturer Sony is committed to a phase out of PVC by 2002.Most recently Greenpeace has targeted the use of soft PVC in IV bags by the medical sector. Baxter International Inc. one of the world's largest medical supplies manufacturers is committed to exploring and developing alternatives to PVC and to substituting IV bags.The second section of this report compiles the available information on commitments to phase out PVC by companies. It is organised by industrial sector. There is also a country by country index of companies in Section 3.

Num. pages: 107