SPI, GREENPEACE TUSSLING OVER WASTE TREATY

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WASHINGTON — Negotiators of an international hazardous waste treaty have left the door open for a future ban on shipping waste such as PVC and some fluorinated polymers.

However, delegates tentatively decided that nonhalogenated polymer waste, such as polycarbonate and some fluorinated polymers, can continue to be shipped overseas.

The treaty, which is not in effect, would ban shipment of waste from nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to non-OECD countries. The treaty would apply to wastes, not finished products.

The Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the Commerce Department wanted delegates at the Basel Convention meeting in Switzerland to put all plastics on the safe list.

But questions from some developing nations about the environmental harm from open burning and pressure from groups such as Greenpeace led the delegates to say they needed to study all chlorinated polymers and two fluoropolymers: ethylene tetrafluoroethylene and polytetrafluoroethylene.

Delegates made the decision at the Feb. 24-28 meeting in Geneva, but it must be ratified by the full convention at an October meeting in Malaysia.

Pat Toner, SPI vice president of technical affairs, who attended the meeting, said he was pleased that negotiators broadened the safe list to include materials like polyethylene and polystyrene. Previously, a plastic had to be listed by name to avoid the ban.

A Commerce Department official said PVC is the central issue left, and he predicted it will present a difficult problem. Bob Reiley, director of the department's Office of Metals, Materials and Chemicals, was disappointed that the convention did not adopt the U.S. position that PVC is intrinsically not hazardous and should not be included in any Basel ban.

Some developing countries argue they do not have the money to track waste and want to limit their risk by limiting shipments, Reiley said.

Egypt was among the nations wanting further study, but no one at the convention presented figures on how much plastic is shipped overseas for disposal or recycling, or how much of an environmental problem open burning is, Reiley said.

The U.S. government recognizes open burning could be a problem but thinks nations should take steps internally to limit it rather than ban materials that are not dangerous themselves, he said. Industry needs to make its case and offer guidance on disposal, he said.

Greenpeace, on the other hand, argued that PVC should be banned from shipping because it is intrinsically hazardous, said Marcelo Furtado, waste trade campaign coordinator for the environmental group.

The bottom line, he said, is that developing countries are a target of plastic scrap for recycling and that PVC is dumped, often in ``backyard shops'' where it is not disposed of properly.

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