WEISBADEN, GERMANY (Nov. 8, 1:30 p.m. ET) — The frustration of the plastics industry at the poor perception of its sustainability and health credentials surfaced at the PolyTalk event organized by PlasticsEurope.
The September event in Wiesbaden brought together business leaders from the European plastics industry, with representatives of the green lobby and officials from European organizations.
Some sympathy was expressed by keynote speakers Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, and Sir Jonathan Porritt, founder and director of Forum for the Future, a United Kingdom-based sustainability think tank.
Porritt said he could sense the frustration of the plastics industry in not getting across the message that it contributes to sustainable developments in automotive, packaging and construction.
He also agreed that environmental organizations can sometimes misuse the trust that society places in them in the way they characterize sustainability issues.
However, Porritt warned the plastics industry against relying on finite resources of hydrocarbons for raw materials. Continuing to do so will not stop the plastics industry developing sustainable innovations, he said: “But it will stop the industry from becoming the force for good in society that it needs to be.”
A panel discussion at PolyTalk on “sound science vs. environmental and health concerns” focused on frustrations arising from plastics-related health scares, including the multiple studies conducted on the health impact of bisphenol-A (BPA).
Martin Brudermüller, vice chairman of BASF's executive board, called for more trust of plastics companies and of scientific studies into potential health risks. He highlighted the need to find consensus about health risks through agreeing the conditions for risk assessment and then all sides sticking to the criteria.
Elke Anklam, director of the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection at the European Commission, said a consensus on potential health risks, should not exclude the studies carried out by companies in the industry.
Axel Singhofen, health policy adviser to the Greens in the European Parliament, agreed but said industry studies must not “contaminate” the decision making process.
He criticized the European Food Safety Authority for the way it excluded some BPA studies in its multi-study assessment of BPA's health risks. He also questioned the transparency of EFSA.
Brudermüller said that such attitudes “do not lead us forward” to finding consensus on risk assessment.
Commissioner Janez Potocnik highlighted the work of the Reach program, which has so far placed 84 chemicals on the EU's list of substances of very high concern.
Singhofen responded: “The Reach list has taken 15 years to get this far, and it is still not complete. The industry has been defending phthalates for ten years.”
Another panelist, Susan Freinkel, a journalist and author, said the plastics industry should stop fighting regulation against the use of BPA in vulnerable areas such as baby products. “I think that's where trust gets eroded,” she said.
Wrapping up the event, Patrick Thomas, president of PlasticsEurope and CEO of Bayer MaterialScience, said it is important the industry tries to understand concerns that are raised, not just dismiss them.