23 May 2005 17:27 [Source: ICIS news]
LONDON (CI)--The vinyls sector has been under pressure for so long that it is not always appreciated how those involved upstream and downstream have responded with initiatives to promote better environmental protection and sustainable development. Yet considerable progress has been made under a 10-year plan to deliver sustainability throughout the PVC (polyvinyl chloride) chain.
Companies have had to face the fact that PVC and the chemicals used to modify its properties remain under severe pressure despite continued widespread use. The vinyls initiative was born out of necessity but has proved to be a model not simply of cooperation but of how tough industrial and commercial sustainable development issues can be tackled.
The industry’s voluntary commitment to greater sustainable development progress has been made despite delays in the release of the European Commission’s (EC’s) long awaited communication on PVC. The threat of much stricter control of PVC manufacture and use has been hanging over the sector for years and been a great driving force not just for producers but also users, recyclers and even traders of the material.
Currently there are 16 major waste management schemes and other PVC-related projects in Europe. One of these, a 50,000 tonne/year feedstock recycling plant is due on-stream in Stigsnaes, Denmark, later this year. A major project is underway to investigate the use of PVC and other polymers as an alternative to coke in steel production. Recycling schemes prompted by the industry's voluntary initiative are widespread and involved construction workers and scrap dealers among many others.
At the halfway stage Vinyls 2010 has proved to be not just resilient but a great driver of change. The plan is not just about the big projects, however, but has at its core the drive to do things better.
Those involved with Vinyls 2010 are learning by doing. A case in point last year was to review how waste disposal targets are set. At a time of expansion in the construction sector in Asia and eastern Europe, and a high oil price, end of life PVC products became much more valuable for direct re-use and led to a drop in availability of PVC for recycling. PVC is a resilient polymer and also looks as though it can last longer in service in some applications than previously estimated.
The vinyls plan is driven using targets but there is more to it than that. Chairman of the Vinyls 2010 monitoring committee, Alfons Buekens, is convinced that it is vital to gain practical knowledge from plant managers, recyclers, traders and others and not rely simply on information and analysis. One of the most challenging aspects of the sector’s voluntary commitment is assuming responsibility for waste produced many decades ago.
Buekens is emeritus professor of safety and human ecology at the Free University of Brussels. The monitoring committee he chairs has representatives from the EC’s directorates of environment and enterprise, members of the European Parliament, and members from industry and consumer associations. It would like to attract representation from at least one major environmental NGO (non-governmental organisation).
Maintaining balance in the PVC debate has necessitated a great deal of action on the industry’s part to challenge misconceptions and promote debate. Public policy in some parts of Europe still veers towards a PVC-free environment but the counter challenge is made on the part of the material’s clear usefulness in many applications and comparisons with alternatives.
Vinyls 2010 has proved that in any environmental debate there is a great need to talk and to share. A major reappraisal in 2005 is expected to show how the plan can best encompass the needs and aspirations of a European Union (EU) of 25 member states.
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