FRISTAD, SWEDEN — While many plastics processors have tough environmental standards to meet, few have it tougher than companies in Sweden.
In fact, many of the studies environmental groups such as Greenpeace cite when alleging plastics are harmful originate from Sweden and other Nordic countries.
``In Sweden and Denmark, PVC issues are more political than in any other country,'' Par Carlsson, quality and environmental manager for plastics processor Uponor AB in Fristad, said during an interview at the plant.
Some politicians have an anti-PVC platform as their main goal in the Swedish parliament, he said.
``The government is a very, very strong, tough opponent for the PVC industry,'' he said.
Carlsson acknowledged the entire plastics industry suffers when PVC is under attack.
``It's easier to make PVC look suspicious in the eyes of the public,'' he said. ``It has a strange name, and sounds like PCBs.''
So Uponor, which extrudes pipes and conduits and rotomolds septic tanks and other products in Fristad, has to be especially diligent in environmental matters.
``We are always under attack and have to prove we are working in a safe business,'' Carlsson said, noting the company will be certified to the ISO 14000 environmental standard this week.
But ISO 14000 standards mean little to the average consumer, so Uponor has developed products and systems to project a ``green'' image in perhaps the most environmentally conscious land in the world.
For one thing, the company is extruding polypropylene pipes for indoor plumbing.
Using PP for pipes doesn't enhance the product's qualities, Carlsson said. In fact, PP pipes are less stiff and need more supports when installed than equivalent PVC products he said.
But they do appeal to an anti-PVC mindset among consumers, Carlsson said.
``There are so many contractors who are creating a purchasing policy of `no PVC,''' he said. ``You have to offer them something else.''
For consumers who are open to a ``green'' PVC product, Uponor in 1997 introduced its U-Reform line of sewer pipes.
U-Reform products look like traditional sewer pipes, except they feature a coextruded inner layer of reground, post-consumer plastic.
``The pipes are 70 percent recycled,'' Carlsson said. ``We are offering a closed PVC ecocycle system.''
Old PVC pipes that are dug out of the ground can be returned to any of 80 pipe wholesalers in the country. Those pipes then are sorted by resin type, ground up and shipped back to pipe producers.
Customers benefit psychologically and financially from the system. They avoid waste, while saving on the high cost of disposing of the products.
``They don't throw the old pipes on landfills, but get them back into the system,'' Carlsson said.
In 1997, more than 121,300 pounds of PVC were recycled that way. In 1998 the figure should be more than 220,500 pounds, he said.
The system doesn't save much money for processors in a low-resin-price environment they generally enjoy today. But Carlsson said the system will benefit companies when resin prices rise again.
Some of the company's rotomolded products also bring a green tint to Uponor's name.
Uponor makes modular septic tanks and special units to separate oil from service stations and grease from restaurants.
Of course those underground applications are hidden from public view once installed.
Above ground — and more in the public eye — Uponor makes a rotating composting bin that has won both praise and a coveted ``Green Swan'' Nordic environmental seal, Carlsson said.
``It's a way to get Uponor known to the public,'' he said. ``It strengthens the environmental surroundings of the company's name, Uponor.''