PVC recycling fears

C&I Issue 1, 2016

The European Commission should not authorise the recycling of plastics that contain the banned softener DHEP, according to an overwhelming majority of MEPs. The chemical bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate poses a threat to the reproductive health of exposed workers, they say in a non-binding resolution.

DEHP is banned by the EU’s REACH regulation, although the Commission can still grant certain companies authorisation to use the chemical in specific circumstances. In a draft decision yet to be approved by EU member states, the Commission is proposing, to authorise the recycling of old plastics that contain DEHP into new PVC products like shoes and floor coverings. The Commission is under no obligation to reflect the outcome of the Parliament vote in its final decision.

‘It is not acceptable to tolerate potentially numerous cases of male infertility simply to allow soft PVC recyclers and downstream users to save costs in the production of low-value articles so as to compete with low-quality imports,’ MEPs state in the resolution. ‘Recycling should not justify the perpetuation of the use of hazardous legacy substances.’

The MEPs point out that DEHP is known to adversely affect the endocrine system in mammals, for example, by reducing foetal testosterone. It can also irreversibly affect the rate at which a mammal develops, as well as its reproductive capacity. They say the producers that had asked for specific authorisation to use the chemical had failed to provide adequate assurances that they would protect their workers from its health risks, or that any potential benefits of the recycling would outweigh these risks.

However, Stéphane Content, the general manager of the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (ECPI), says that PVC can be recycled with risk control for human health and the environment, and without loss of performance. ‘The alternatives to recycling are incineration, landfilling and export outside the EU leading to an outright loss of valuable materials for the EU economy. PVC recycling enhances resources efficiency, reduces emissions and brings environmental benefits.’

In 2015, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Committees for Risk Assessment (RAC) and Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) recommended the authorisation of DEHP in recycled PVC products.

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