Why European policymakers shouldn’t listen to NGOs in PVC matters – POLITICO

The PVCMed Alliance says the proposed removal will hamper the circular economy in healthcare.

After being dormant for years, the PVC debate has come alive again in Europe. NGOs are now lobbying European policy makers to develop plans to phase out plastics in health care and elsewhere. In a new comprehensive review, the PVCMed Alliance argues that NGOs today lack scientific rigor on PVC issues and ignore European progress. Perhaps most disturbingly, NGOs have not kept pace with this development. So European policy makers should read today’s PVC critique from NGOs with strong reservations.

The golden age is over

The current approach to PVC stands in stark contrast to the golden age of the 1980s and 1990s, when Greenpeace rightly noted the challenges to PVC production, use, and disposal. Through smart campaigns based on science, authorities and regulators have had to react and the industry to adapt.

Today, the picture is completely different. It seems that the past twenty years of sustainable development of PVC in Europe, initiated by Greenpeace, have failed to attract any interest from today’s NGOs. Unfortunately, European policy makers are provided with outdated information or asked to develop policies for issues that have already been resolved in the EU or are unrelated in a European context.

Last year, the NGO Health Care Without Harm published a paper titled “The Polyvinyl Chloride Debate: Why PVC remains a problematic material.” Major European NGOs signed and provided input to the paper, which was followed by a phase-out list of chemicals of concern in healthcare that includes PVC. Let’s look at some of the critical areas where NGOs today are mistaken or ignoring important developments in the European Union:

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In an NGO paper, it was surprisingly claimed that PVC is the least recyclable of all the plastics. Since PVC belongs to the family of thermoplastic polymers, the phrase simply does not make sense. In contrast to thermoplastics, which are another large family of polymers, PVC and other thermoplastics can be melted down to reshape. In fact, PVC can be recycled repeatedly[1] Drawing on the application without losing its technical characteristics.

In the European Union, more than 6.5 million tons of PVC waste have been recycled since 2000

Ironically, advocating the phasing out of PVC due to the alleged inability to recycle PVC will impede the circular economy in healthcare. Since PVC is the most widely used plastic for medical devices and will remain so for at least the next decade, it makes sense to start with this polymer.

PVC is the most widely used plastic for medical devices and will remain so for at least the next decade

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PVC alternatives

The NGO paper claims that PVC can be replaced with safer materials in almost all cases. This is simply not true. In 2020, the PVC Information Council of Denmark commissioned Ramboll Denmark to map the use and recycling of flexible PVC applications.

The Circular Visions of Flexible PVC report concluded that it would be very difficult to produce similar goods without the use of flexible PVC. The study by “similar goods” refers to a wide range of resilient PVC products such as vinyl flooring, roofing films, tarpaulins for trucks, trains and tents, advertising banners or cultural events, flood protection equipment, bouncy castles, sports equipment and medical devices. Ramboll is of the opinion that “the distinctive features of flexible PVC make it suitable in these particular products for a number of reasons including abrasion resistance, weather resistance, service life, safety and other very specific properties.”

In addition, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency found that “it cannot be concluded from the available life-cycle analyzes that another type of plastic is generally better than PVC”.

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Brussels effect

Much of the NGO paper is used to describe the harmful effect of DEHP. Despite the fact that DEHP remains the most widely used plasticizer in flexible PVC products globally, it highlights the detriment of DEHP to the public who have been working hard to ensure that strict regulation of the use of this material is implemented in Europe. Due to regulation and industrial innovation, DEHP and other labeled phthalates have been replaced by nearly 100 percent in Europe.

The European Union is known to be at the forefront of chemical regulation and consumer safety. In her book The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Governs the World, Columbia Law School professor Anu Bradford argues that the rest of the world will eventually follow in the EU’s footsteps. This is partly due to the regulatory strength of the European Union and the size of the European market. It seems that NGOs are unaware of how big a role the Brussels influence can play and can play in global sustainable development.

To accelerate the global replacement of DEHP and other EU-labeled phthalates, a partnership has been created between VinylPlus and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. Since China is the largest producer of PVC in the world, the aim of the partnership is to establish a dialogue with China in order to raise awareness of the EU’s progress in this field.

Our message is clear: NGOs today are not familiar with PVC matters and therefore we warn the Europeans Policy makers should not initiate policies based on their own visions and recommendations.

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[1] Arthur Lyons: Materials for Architects and Builders, Sixth Edition, Routledge, 2019, p. 386, https://www.routledge.com/Materials-for-Architects-and-Builders/Lyons/p/book/9780815363392


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