Retailers and PVC makers in Britain have drawn up a code designed to reassure the general public that PVC products have been manufactured in "an environmentally responsible way." The "Eco-Efficiency Code of Practice" is the first step in a wider Environmental Charter effort, launched a year ago by the PVC Coordination Group. The group includes leading national supermarket chains and two PVC manufacturers with plants in the United Kingdom: EVC International NV and Norsk Hydro ASA.
"All parties have shown a commendable willingness to work together in improving the environmental performance of the U.K.-based PVC industry, although all agree this is really just the start of a much longer process," said Jonathon Porritt, the group's chairman, and also a leading British environmentalist.
Included in the code are minimum environmental standards for PVC production and measurable targets for continued improvement in the producers' environmental performance.
Specific issues addressed include the release of vinyl chloride monomer and other chlorinated materials from PVC plants and the generation of dioxins in manufacture and waste treatment. Other areas include energy and raw material use efficiency and nuisance issues such as odor and visual intrusion in the local community.
Targets are set in terms of total environmental load per metric ton of PVC manufactured, as well as the load associated with each production site. The code requires VCM atmospheric emissions to be less than 5.25 ounces per 2,205 pounds of PVC produced, while the ethyl dichloride emission limit is set at less than 8.75 ounces per 2,205 pounds of PVC.
Also included is the requirement to limit carbon dioxide released from emissions, imported energy and from the transport of PVC, VCM or EDC.
"In preparing the code, it was recognized that manufacturers of VCM and PVC must continually operate at the leading edge of technology in terms of emission controls. Total losses from factories are already less than, or in the order of 0.05 percent of the material processed," the group stated in a news release.
"Even so, the manufacturers accept the need to demonstrate to the public that there is no evidence of harm caused by their processes."
Retail members of the group include Britain's top supermarket chain, Tesco plc, as well as Asda (part of U.S. giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc.), the Waitrose food division of John Lewis Partnership, and the Cooperative Wholesale Society.
The consultation process stems from action taken by the environmental action group Greenpeace in 1996. At that time, Greenpeace lobbied major retailers to phase PVC out of their packaging and construction materials, according to Roger Mottram, a spokesman for EVC (UK), the Runcorn, England-based unit of parent company EVC International.
Retailers formed the coordination group, which at first included Greenpeace but no PVC producers.
A 1997 report commissioned by the retailers by the National Centre for Business and Ecology, a research consultancy based in Salford, England, concluded there was no need to phase out PVC in stores and packaging as long as PVC is manufactured "using best practice" and disposed of responsibly.
In 1998, the group asked national PVC producers to help define the best manufacturing practices.
NCBE, now renamed the National Centre for Business and Sustainability, developed the code. The company is developing standards for the waste management of PVC, according to NCBS project manager Penny Street.
"At the start of the process, we challenged the PVC industry to clean up, or we would phase out PVC packaging from our business," said CWS's trade liaison manager Duncan Bowdler, who sits on the Coordination Group.
"We are pleased that the industry has responded by coming up with the Eco-Efficiency Code of Practice. We wish it a fair wind and we will be watching its progress."