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IP/00/838

Brussels, 26 July 2000

Commission launches consultation on environmental issues of PVC

The European Commission has adopted for the first time a Green Paper evaluating environmental issues related to PVC. It is scientifically based and includes related human health aspects. In the context of sustainable development it puts forward a number of options to address the impacts of PVC. The two main issues are the use of additives such as lead, cadmium and phthalates and the waste management of PVC. In order to adopt a comprehensive Community strategy early in 2001, the Commission is launching a broad public consultation on the basis of the Green Paper. All stakeholders are invited to discuss and comment on the Paper before the end of November, a public hearing will be organised in October. All necessary information will be available soon on internet at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/pvc/index.htm.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström and Entreprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen welcomed the adoption by the Commission of the Green Paper on environmental issues of PVC.

Mrs Wallström declared: "PVC waste is likely to increase by 80% by 2020. This is a problem we must address now. The Green Paper is a major step in launching for the first time a Europe-wide public consultation on the environmental issues of PVC, which is one of the most widespread plastics in use today. We look forward to hearing the views of industry, NGOs, the European Parliament, and the Member States themselves."

Mr Liikanen added: "We also have to address the environmental issues posed by certain additives used in PVC. It is important for us, at this stage, to keep an open mind on the options outlined in the Green Paper. A range of measures is available to implement a Community strategy on PVC and will have to be considered during the consultation process."

Background

PVC is one of the most widespread plastics used today with a production of about 5.5 million tonnes in Europe in 1998. The main applications of PVC are in the building sector, which accounts for 57% of all uses. Other large uses are in the fields of packaging, household and automotive appliances.

The presentation of the main environmental problems of PVC in the Green Paper is the result of a comprehensive 3 years study programme (5 studies commissioned by the services of the Commission(1)) on technical, scientific and economic aspects of the PVC life cycle (the so-called "horizontal approach" on PVC). This follows the commitment made by the Commission in its Proposal for a Directive on End of Life Vehicles(2) (July 1997).

A number of issues regarding PVC and its impact on the environment have been identified and analysed in greater detail in the Green Paper: the PVC industry and its products, the additives and the management of PVC wastes (in particular the recycling, the incineration and the landfilling).

The Green Paper presents also for consultation a range of policy options and questions for all of the specific issues identified. A first set of questions relates to the use of certain additives, in particular lead, cadmium and phthalates. Lead and cadmium are used as stabilisers in PVC products in order to prevent degradation by heat and light. Phthalates are used as plasticisers to manufacture flexible PVC products. Questions are raised about potential measures and the timeframe to implement measures with the objective to reduce those environmental and human health impacts that need to be addressed.

A second range of questions relates to the management of PVC waste. About 3.6 million tonnes of post-consumer PVC waste are generated annually in Europe. An increase of PVC waste quantities of about 80% is expected in the coming 20 years due to the long average life spans of certain PVC products that gained significant market share in the 1970s and 1980s. Questions in the Green Paper are raised about potential measures and their effectiveness to improve, in accordance with the general Community Strategy, the management of PVC waste present in various waste streams.

In addition, the Green Paper presents a series of possible measures, whether mandatory or voluntary, that are conceivable in the framework of a Community strategy on PVC. In that context, the European PVC industry has signed a voluntary commitment on the sustainable development of PVC, which, inter alia, addresses the reduction of the use of certain heavy metal stabilisers, the mechanical recycling of certain post-consumer wastes, and the development of further recycling technologies. Implementation will start in 2001.

At the end of the consultation process, the Commission can also propose legislative measures, such as a Proposal for a Directive on PVC, or a mix of instruments such as the adaptation of existing Directives, Recommendations to the Member States and strengthened voluntary commitments.

(1)Studies considered mechanical recycling, chemical recycling, landfill, incineration, and the economic implications of a diversion of PVC waste from incineration. They can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/facts_en.htm

(2) COM(97) 358 final


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