A coalition of environmental groups is pressuring Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft Corp. not to use PVC as a packaging material, and plans to target other companies using vinyl.
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice issued a report Dec. 7 that called for the phasing out of PVC, and it called on companies to switch to other plastics or materials that do not have what it said are vinyl's environmental downsides.
The group said PVC represents a looming crisis for the United States because 70 billion pounds of PVC will have to be disposed of in the next 10 years. The center said the amount of vinyl in the waste stream will increase sharply as the 125 billion tons of PVC products installed in the past 40 years, including in pipe and siding, reaches the end of its useful life.
A spokesman for the industry's trade group, the Vinyl Institute, said vinyl remains less than 1 percent of the waste stream, and he said the report mischaracterizes vinyl as a significant source of toxins such as dioxin.
Lois Gibbs, CHEJ executive director, said some companies are moving away from PVC, such as Firestone Building Products Co. The coalition, which includes the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund, is asking Johnson & Johnson, which it said is one of the largest users of PVC bottles, not to use vinyl in its shampoo bottles. And it said it is targeting Microsoft to stop using vinyl in its blister packaging for software because the company is a market leader.
The coalition posted a letter from Johnson & Johnson on the campaign's Web site, www.besafenet.com, where a company official said PVC is a good packaging material for drugs and cosmetics, but said the firm is trying to reduce its use because of concerns about recyclability.
VI spokesman Allen Blakey said that examples of companies deselecting PVC are isolated anecdotes and that industry sales are growing. ``Anecdotes certainly don't explain trends,'' he added.
The CHEJ report acknowledged industry figures showing continued steady growth in PVC use in the United States, from 9.8 billion pounds in 1995 to a projected 14.2 billion pounds next year, which would suggest that campaigns against vinyl have not had a major impact. But Gibbs said questions about PVC are increasing.
``We haven't put a dent in it, but it's moving in that direction,'' Gibbs said. For example, Falls Church, Va., where CHEJ is located, recently decided to build a new school without vinyl roofing and vinyl tiles as a way to make the school ``a little greener,'' she said.
``We're seeing that across the country - not in consistent ways, but in flurries here and there,'' Gibbs said.
In its lengthy report, CHEJ argues that vinyl is hazardous at all phases of its life cycle, from carcinogens like vinyl chloride monomer used in manufacturing, to dioxins and toxins released when vinyl is landfilled or incinerated.
The group, echoing complaints from recycling trade groups, said vinyl can cause problems when recycled with other plastics, and it said PVC often needs hazardous metals such as lead and cadmium as stabilizers.
The report, co-written with the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Portland, Maine, said communities near vinyl production plants have been polluted and in one case, in Mossville, La., parts of the area were evacuated following a lawsuit against the industry.
Arlington, Va.-based VI said the report mischaracterizes the impact of vinyl. Blakey said the largest source of dioxin, for example, is open burning, which can create dioxin whether vinyl is present or not. He said dioxin levels have fallen since the 1970s, even as vinyl production has skyrocketed.
Vinyl can be recycled, but the problem is often that recycling economics are poor, Blakey said. In the case of recycling construction debris, there is a lack of collection systems, although interest in recycling all types of construction debris is growing, he said.
Industry has to meet much stricter standards than it used to, he said. The issue of pollution around plants reflects ``historical and not current practices,'' he added. ``It's true that we do have contamination in many parts of the country that dates way back.''