My son is a good student, but if he ever got an “F” on a report card, his mother and I would talk it over with him and his teacher. We would determine what caused the grade and work on improving it.
That's not how it works with Clean Production Action. The group gave PVC an “F” on its “Scorecard” and indicated that's as good a grade as it will ever get [“PP aces Plastics Scorecard,” Plastics News, Oct. 5, Page 3] because PVC combustion forms dioxins.
Reducing environmental releases of and exposure to dioxins and other dangerous chemicals is an important goal, of course, but we have a few problems with this report card. First, readers of Plastics News need to know that dioxin emissions have declined more than 90 percent in the past 20 years or so, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. During this time, PVC production and use have soared, and our industry has invested heavily in applying the best available technology to minimize all emissions. PVC is not a major source of dioxin releases to the environment.
If any dioxin from combustion fails a material, as it appears to do in Scorecard, then any dioxin anywhere in the life cycle should do the same. Logically, Clean Production's “F” list is going to get a lot longer. Say goodbye to some plastics other than PVC, as well as wood, cement, iron, steel, aluminum and copper. Many other materials will also fail because they are associated with “toxic” chemicals besides dioxin.
They will fail, that is, if the Scorecard is applied uniformly and logically. Unfortunately, we have no indication that the tool will be applied that way. In Scorecard, there's no accounting for risk, exposure, or comparative life-cycle impacts, to say nothing of comparative performance of substitutes. It's a selective hit list gussied up with charts and color bars that poorly camouflage the shallowness and rigidity of the philosophy behind it.
There's also no recognition of our stewardship improvements. Our industry is ahead of most others in analyzing and reducing dioxin emissions. We have essentially eliminated lead, cadmium and mercury from vinyl products. At least 1 billion pounds are being recycled —- tens of millions at the post-consumer level as companies find new and better ways to recover used material. Our workers' illness and injury rates are much lower than those in the chemicals and overall manufacturing sectors. PVC takes less energy to make on a unit basis than other major plastics, and it performs better than some materials claimed as substitutes. PVC scores very well in comparative life-cycle studies.
The developers of The Natural Step, one of the most comprehensive sustainability programs in existence, say that no material currently can be proven sustainable, since sustainability is an endless path, and no material is disqualified from pursuing sustainability, that is, making continuing improvements. Our industry has worked hard to lighten the environmental footprint of PVC from production through end-of-life, and we'll continue along this path. We'll continue to do what it takes to justify the myriad uses of this material that has brought so much value to businesses and consumers.
Gregory J. Bocchi