Chemistry & Life Sciences

VinylPlus’ Quest For Sustainability

The European PVC Industry Program on Target to Meet 2020 Goals

24.10.2013 -


United Industry - Twenty years ago, it was hard to imagine that increasing concerns about the way PVC was produced would trigger such a radical industry transformation. In its third year, VinylPlus is well on target to meet the ambitious, new 10-year goals carrying the work started with Vinyl 2010 to the next level.


Everything started 13 years ago with the launch of Vinyl 2010, the first-ever sustainability program of the European PVC industry. Based on the voluntary commitment of the entire value-chain - resin manufacturers, additive producers and converters represented by their respective European associations (ECVM, ECPI, ESPA and EuPC) - all its members renewed their sustainability pledge in June 2011. VinylPlus was born.


Bigger Challenges, Ambitious Goals

While it initially aimed to address the industry's waste management needs, at the completion of Vinyl2010   the targets set had been met and exceeded in many cases. The achievements are particularly notable when it comes to collection and recycling. In 1999, there was no infrastructure for PVC recycling in Europe, and many dismissed it as an unrecyclable material. At the end of the program almost 1 million tons of PVC had been recycled in Europe. Additives such as cadmium stabilizers have been phased out.

Achieving the initial goals gave the PVC industry the necessary confidence to launch VinylPlus, with more ambitious recycling targets, product stewardship guidelines on the sustainable use of additives, investment in R&D initiatives and the promotion of a sustainable development culture. When it comes to waste management, the industry aims to recycle 800,000 tons per year of PVC by 2020 including 100,000 tons of difficult-to-recycle waste.


Recycling, The Program's Cornerstone

When it comes to recycling, one of the main pillars of this program, the numbers speak for themselves. In 2012, VinylPlus registered a record 362,076 tons of PVC recycled. Post-consumer and limited types of post-industrial PVC, including some of the regulated waste streams in the EU, are accounted for based on the new, wider scope of the program. The industry, which has been working for years on technologies to recycle difficult-to-treat PVC waste such as VinyLoop, is currently evaluating a number of innovative processes.

Significant efforts have been made to address the issue of "legacy additives," i.e., the presence of certain substances in recycled PVC that are, or may be, restricted or prohibited in the future following the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation. A solution has been found for cadmium and, very recently, for DEHP. More discussions with the European Commission are, however, necessary to find a way that will reconcile resource efficiency and consumer safety.

The sector also registered a decrease of 76.37% in lead stabilizer consumption in the EU-27 compared with 2007 levels, well on track to complete the substitution by the end of 2015.


Working Harder in Times of Crisis

PVC is one of the most widely used plastics in the world, after polyethylene and polypropylene. However, difficult economic times have taken their toll on the industry. According to recent market figures that IHS Chemicals presented at the 2O13 VinylPlus Sustainability Forum, the construction sector's downturn has had a deep negative effect, shrinking margins and putting Europe in a risky position compared with fast-developing economies such as China, India or Turkey.

Speaking at that same event co-organized by ECVM and VinylPlus, the European Union's Director of DG Enterprise Gwenole Cozigou said, "The EU needs a strong industrial base but this has not always been the case. The current economic crisis has been a wake-up call."

He highlighted the need for manufacturing to be "the backbone" of our economy, especially when taking into account that about 80% of research and development comes from this sector.


Competitive And Sustainable

Indeed, the slowdown in Europe has more than ever established the need for a globally competitive and sustainable industrial sector. Both goals are part of VinylPlus' genes as the program strives to increase resource efficiency as a way to create jobs and new opportunities, drive down costs and boost competitiveness while minimizing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.


In that sense, a number of VinylPlus task forces are fully operational, studying how to incorporate renewable energy and raw materials, the sustainable use of additives and the environmental footprint of PVC production. A VinylPlus product label concept for PVC products has been developed in collaboration with the Natural Step - a nongovernmental organization providing input and guidance for the development of the VinylPlus program - and the U.K. expert certification body BRE Global.


Dialogue: The Recipe for Success

A special trait of VinylPlus has been its bottom-up development - an open process of stakeholder dialogue with industry, NGOs, regulators, public representatives and users of PVC - as well as its critical partnership with the international NGO the Natural Step (TNS). The System Conditions for a Sustainable Society developed by TNS were used to define the program's key challenges and objectives, including the need to widely promote sustainable thinking at a global level.

Raising sustainability awareness is indeed a key component of the program, recognizing that progress will be equally dependent on widening understanding throughout industry, as well as in society generally. In that regard, a number of communication projects have been supported to reinforce the Voluntary Commitment messages along the value chain. VinylPlus is also engaged in external debates including the participation at Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The VinylPlus Voluntary Commitment was included in the Rio+20 Registry of Commitments.

"Your cradle-to-cradle approach is exactly what is needed. So, if you look into your supply chain, subsidiaries and other contacts, that kind of conversation and dialogue is part of how we need to do things in the future ... Together we must create and catalyze transformation and change," said Ambassador Tomas Anker Christensen, senior advisor at the United Nations Office for Partnerships, at the 2013 Vinyl Sustainability Forum.


What's Next?

The progress of VinylPlus proves that the industry is successfully moving to a truly circular economy model, which puts end-of-life materials back into the production stream, extending the added value of PVC's inherent durability and versatility. Many things remain to be done, of course, but the ongoing efforts of the PVC industry are clearly going in the right direction.

All the solid work done so far is the best springboard to take the industry to the next level. In the words of the European Union's Cozigou, "the PVC industry has a great role to play" in Europe's journey to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. We must make sure we continue to have the support of the entire value-chain; only together can we continue the journey toward sustainability.




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