Minutes of 03/04/2001 - Provisional Edition

Environmental issues of PVC


European Parliament resolution on the Commission Green Paper on environmental issues of PVC (COM(2000) 469 - C5-0633/2000 - 2000/2297(COS))

The European Parliament,

-  having regard to the Commission Green Paper (COM(2000) 469 - C5-0633/2000),

-  having regard to Articles 174 and 95 of the EC Treaty,

-  having regard to its resolution of 14 November 1996 on the communication from the Commission on the review of the Community strategy for waste management and the draft Council resolution on waste policy (COM(95) 399 - C4-0453/96)(1),

-  having regard to its resolution of 17 July 1997 on the Commission communication to the Council and the European Parliament on environmental agreements (COM(96) 561 - C4-0013/97)(2),

-  having regard to the responsibilities assumed by the Commission under European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/53/EC of 18 September 2000 on end of life vehicles(3),

-  having regard to the Community legislation in force on waste(4), the landfill of waste(5) and the incineration of waste(6),

-  having regard to the Community legislation in force on restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations(7) and on the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances(8),

-  having regard to the forthcoming revision of the Community's chemicals policy,

-  having regard to the forthcoming EU strategy on sustainable development,

-  having regard to Rule 47(1) of its Rules of Procedure,

-  having regard to the report of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy and the opinion of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy (A5- 0092/2001),

A.  whereas the Commission is asking Parliament to contribute to the debate on the environmental issues of PVC and in particular to the public consultation exercise with a view to the adoption of a comprehensive Community strategy on the environmental problems linked to PVC,

B.  whereas, as co-legislator in environmental protection and public health matters, the European Parliament has a moral obligation to participate in a constructive and ambitious way in the debate aimed at defining such a strategy,

C.  whereas Article 174(1) of the EC Treaty says that Community policy on the environment must contribute to pursuit, among other things, of the objectives of preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment and protecting human health; whereas paragraph 2 of that Article also stipulates that this policy is based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should, as a priority, be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay; whereas, however, consideration must be given to the social, employment, financial and economic implications of any proposed policy,

D.  whereas in its abovementioned resolution of 14 November 1996 the European Parliament called for a reduction of PVC, chlorine and heavy metals in waste,

E.  whereas the Council resolution of 24 February 1997 on waste policy(9) called for increased efforts to reduce the presence of dangerous substances in waste where less dangerous alternatives are available,

F.  whereas the management of PVC waste requires special attention on account of the specific characteristics of this material and in particular on account of its high chlorine content, but whereas in order to tackle this problem effectively, measures relating to PVC must not preclude the formulation of a more general strategy for dealing with all plastics,

G.  whereas the Commission's Green Paper focuses mainly on an analysis of the environmental impact of PVC in terms of waste management, without analysing all aspects of PVC products throughout their life cycle and without considering the economic advantages and disadvantages of this material; whereas the Green Paper also raises questions about waste collection and management which relate to all materials and not specifically to PVC and whereas the Green Paper does not compare PVC with alternative materials,

H.  having regard to the specific nature of the European PVC processing industry, which is essentially made up of small and medium-sized enterprises, and therefore that SME impact studies are an essential prerequisite of implementing any new legislation,

I.  whereas the use of stabilisers such as lead, cadmium or organotins in PVC products poses potential risks of dispersion into the environment during production, processing and disposal of PVC and, consequently, risks to human health,

J.  noting the recent widespread public fears about the use of phthalates in products intended for children and at the same time the need to await the findings of the current risk evaluation,

K.  whereas the results of the current risk assessments are important but must not preclude immediate measures for particularly exposed groups; whereas there is also a lacuna in the programme for existing substances, where total exposure to phthalates is not assessed,

L.  having regard to the voluntary commitment given by the European PVC industry in March 2000 to contribute to the reduction of the environmental impact of PVC throughout its lifecycle,

M.  whereas it is necessary to tackle the problems relating to management of waste PVC within the more general framework of an enhanced European strategy for waste disposal,

N.  whereas in the case of all methods of processing PVC, the aims pursued should be not only to keep emissions of pollutants to a minimum but also to minimise quantities of residues,

O.  whereas in the past insufficient emphasis has been placed on developing recycling of PVC, including melting for reuse, although technical solutions are at the development stage,

P.  whereas the percentage of pre-consumer PVC waste currently recycled is about 80%, while that of post-consumer PVC is only around 3% of annual sales and this method of waste treatment is also basically limited to sectoral applications such as pipe systems, sections for use in building, and roofing membranes, and a few schemes for cable, packaging and floor-covering waste,

Q.  whereas the proportion of PVC recycled must therefore be increased,

R.  whereas recycling of PVC must not perpetuate the problem of heavy metals,

S.  whereas the first step should be to recycle bulk PVC waste (such as pipe systems, tubes, sections for use in building, window frames, roofing membranes and other PVC waste from the building trade), as large quantities are involved and they can be collected more readily,

T.  whereas the incineration of PVC products gives rise to the emission of hazardous substances such as hydrogen chloride (HCl), which then have to be neutralised to comply with the limits imposed by existing legislation and thus gives rise to waste classified as hazardous in quantities which can exceed the quantities that went into incincineration and the emission of heavy metals such as cadmium, which is very difficult to combat because of the volatility of the metal,

U.  whereas the gradual commissioning of new generation incinerators will make it possible to reduce the quantity of emissions from hazardous waste, but the quantity of residues should be kept to a minimum,

V.  whereas landfill is currently the most common method of disposing of PVC waste,

W.  whereas the environment should be free from man-made or extracted substances and metals that represent a threat to health or biological diversity,

X.  whereas it is well known that PVC softeners will be released from PVC waste during landfill,

1.  Welcomes the Commission's initiative of launching a large-scale public consultation exercise on the environmental impact of PVC in order to identify practical solutions to the problems posed by the use of such materials for the environment and human health;

2.  Regrets, however, that the Commission has not performed any lifecycle analysis of PVC products to compare them with alternative materials and calls on the Commission to ensure that the lifecycle impact on health and the environment of alternative products which are substitutes for PVC is assessed with at least the same degree of precision and openness as that of PVC;

3.  Considers that scientific research into the industrial, economic and environmental implications of PVC and of any potential reformulations or substitutes (PET, aluminium, wood, etc.) could be valid items for the Sixth Framework Research Programme;

4.  Calls on the Commission to bring forward as soon as possible a draft long-term horizontal strategy which would allow substitution policies, based on a comparative analysis of alternative products throughout their lifecycle, to be introduced for various categories of products including, in particular, products directly linked to human health, disposable products and products that are difficult to separate;

5.  Calls on the Commission to introduce rapidly a policy on the replacement of soft PVC, in so far as the current risk analysis of phthalates indicates that it is desirable to reduce the exposure of people and the environment;

6.  Calls on the Commission to issue a recommendation to the Member States calling on them not to use PVC as a building material in buildings with a high fire risk;

7.  Calls on the Commission to back up its forthcoming proposals on the future of the PVC industry with a proper evaluation of the socio-economic impact, which examines in particular the effects on employment in quantitative and qualitative terms, especially with regard to SMEs;

8.  Calls on the Commission, in the discussions concerning the future of the PVC industry, to arrange for appropriate participation by European works councils, other bodies representing employees from the PVC industry and health, consumer and environmental NGOs, particularly where health, safety and environmental interests are at stake;

9.  Calls on the Commission to include the applicant countries in the strategy and ensure that European Union standards are introduced and applied there;

Waste collection

10.  Draws attention to the importance of more effective differentiated waste collection which allows different waste streams to be sent to the most appropriate disposal sites;

11.  Calls on the Commisison in addition to propose appropriate measures to ensure separate collection of PVC products, due to the problems they create in each waste disposal option, in particular incineration;

12.  Considers that, in order to meet significant quantitative objectives in terms of waste collection, it is necessary to establish a specific legal framework that encourages the drawing up of agreements involving all interested parties;

13.  Calls on the Commission therefore to examine existing good practices at Community and Member State level with regard to voluntary commitments by the industry and environmental agreements and subsequently to propose, on the basis of that analysis, legislation to encourage the attainment of ambitious objectives;


14.  Considers that the commitments given by the PVC industry, although interesting and commendable, are not sufficient to prevent the dispersion of hazardous substances, such as cadmium and lead, into the environment, and particularly at the work place; considers that more thorough studies should therefore be carried out with the aim of ensuring full protection of public health and assessing precisely the impact of the dispersion of these substances;

15.  Considers, consequently, that it is necessary to adopt Community legislation designed to phase out cadmium and lead-based stabilisers and to ban imports from non-member countries of PVC products containing these substances;

16.  Calls on the Commission to propose amendments to Directive 76/769/EEC with the aim of banning all use of lead and cadmium as a stabiliser in the PVC industry;

17.  Calls on the Commission to perform a risk assessment of possible substitutes for stabilisers and additives;

18.  Calls on the Commission to examine alternatives to the use of phthalates as plasticisers, which present less risk to human health;

19.  Suggests that the Commission and the PVC industry, taking also into account the current studies, should look into the possibility of setting targets for reducing the use of phthalates, particularly in medical equipment;

Management of PVC waste


20.  Considers that it is necessary to continue to develop technological research, primarily in the area of chemical recycling that can separate chlorine from heavy metals, provided that strict emission standards are applied, to reduce the costs of the process and improve its effectiveness, with a view to increasing the percentage of PVC waste recycled and to reducing the percentage of waste for incineration or dumping;

21.  Suggests that, on the model of the end-of-life vehicles Directive, the proportion of recycled waste be increased, giving priority to the sectors where recycling does not perpetuate the problem of heavy metals, and that of waste for incineration or dumping consequently reduced, by making the producers at least partially responsible for the product life cycle through the introduction, starting with long-life products, of 'closed cycles' recovery systems;

22.  Proposes the introduction of compulsory marking of all plastics to facilitate collection and sorting of PVC applications and asks the Commission to support the development of existing technologies which identify and mechanically separate the different kinds of plastic;

23.  Calls on the Commission to examine the possibility of providing incentives for the use of recycled material giving priority to bulk PVC waste (such as pipe systems, tubes, sections for use in building, window frames, roofing membranes and other PVC waste from the building trade);

24.  Considers that the task of defining precise objectives at Community level is a matter for the legislator, which cannot therefore be left to the goodwill of the industry within the framework of the voluntary commitment;

25.  Calls on the Commission to present as soon as possible a proposal for framework legislation on environmental agreements, which lays down the relevant criteria with regard to conditions, monitoring arrangements and penalties;

26.  Considers that, pending the adoption of such framework legislation, an alternative solution would be the adoption, in accordance with the procedures laid down by the Treaties, of legislation defining precise objectives for the recovery of waste, established in agreement with producers, monitoring arrangements and implementing rules and which would enter into force only if operators in the sector are unable to meet the stipulated objectives through voluntary commitments;


27.  Considers it essential to support research and the development of new technologies allowing the recovery of hydrogen chloride and thereby improving the impact of incineration on the environment and human health, as well as reducing to a minimum other emissions and the quantity of residues;

28.  Stresses that there is a substantial difference between soft and hard PVC and it is therefore important to separate their waste as early as possible, with a view to directing hard PVC waste as a priority towards recycling or landfill and soft PVC waste towards incineration, which, due to the lower chlorine content in soft PVC, is potentially less dangerous than landfill where there are risks of losses of plasticisers, especially phatalates;

29.  Supports, in accordance with the hierarchy of principles established by the European waste management strategy, the option of incineration with energy recovery;

30.  Proposes that the 'polluter pays' principle be applied in full, thereby charging producers for part of the additional costs incurred because of the presence of PVC in incinerated waste, and proposes that this approach be extended to the processing of other types of waste which entail extra costs;


31.  Notes that neither incineration nor landfill is a sustainable option for management of waste PVC; only separate storage of hard PVC can be regarded as a temporary solution in this connection, pending increases in recycling capacity;

32.  Calls on the Commission to evaluate all available studies of the long-term behaviour of PVC at dumps in order to be able to judge whether it is safe;

33.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and Commission.

(1)OJ C 362, 2.12.1996, p. 241.
(2)OJ C 286, 22.9.1997, p. 254.
(3)OJ L 269, 21.10.2000, p. 34.
(4)Council Directive 91/156/EEC of 18 March 1991, amending Directive 75/442/EEC on waste, OJ L 78, 26.3.1991, p. 32.
(5)Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26 April 1999 on the landfill of waste, OJ L 182, 16.7.1999, p. 1.
(6)European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/76/EC on the incineration of waste of 4 December 2000, OJ L 332, 28.12.2000, p. 91.
(7)Council Directive 76/769/EEC of 27 July 1976, OJ L 262, 27.9.1976, p. 201.
(8)Council Directive 67/548/EEC of 27 June 1967, OJ 196, 16.8.1967, p. 1.
(9) OJ C 76, 11.3.1997, p. 1.