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Issue 48
, 2014
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PVC: a unique story

Source: Chemical Watch, Date: , 2014

How one material is addressing a host of issues related to its additives

It’s hard to think of a material that has been criticised more for its use of hazardous substances than PVC. Because of its role as a major consumer of chlorine, the polymer has been a key target of Greenpeace’s for over 20 years. In 1992, for example, as chloralkali executives gathered at a conference in Monte Carlo to discuss the industry’s environmental issues, the Greenpeace ship Sirius sailed back and forth displaying banners proclaiming “Chlorine Kills – Ban PVC”. But global demand for PVC continued to grow, and is expected to keep growing.

Today, much of Europe’s chlorine production still uses mercury cell technology, but steady progress has been made by PVC producers and additive suppliers in Europe on many of the other issues related to PVC’s life cycle, such as increasing recycling rates and phasing out the most problematic additives. This has been driven by the sector’s VinylPlus voluntary programme, which was launched in 2000 in a (successful) bid to fend off legal restrictions on PVC from the European Commission, and which continues to be driven by pressure from Greenpeace and other NGOs, and the “halogen-free” policies of some big consumer brands (especially in the electronics sector).

For Europe’s PVC industry, the continuing focus on the plastic’s environmental record is both a curse and a boon. Although REACH does not (so far) require the registration of polymers, all of the stabilisers, plasticisers, fillers, pigments and other additives in PVC must be registered, and some of these have been added to the candidate list and are subject to authorisation or restriction, ensuring a steady drip-feed of bad news and supply chain reformulation work. But the same regulatory requirements also offer the industry a chance to rebrand today’s PVC as an example of what REACH is all about – reducing the toxicity footprint of those materials and products that are important to Europe’s economy.

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