Nairobi, Kenya — The vinyl industry delegation to the plastics treaty negotiations is bringing a two-pronged approach as diplomats start to hammer out details: talk about the benefits of PVC while pushing back on calls for restrictions on the material.
As countries at the current round of negotiations, which opened Nov. 13 at United Nations' offices in Kenya, begin a year-long process to write a treaty text, vinyl industry groups were on hand to argue for PVC's role in society.
"Our fundamental purpose here is to educate, to talk to people about the quality PVC products in health care that are saving lives with the blood bags that we have, or providing clean tap water in communities that need clean and safe drinking water," said Ned Monroe, president and CEO of the Washington-based Vinyl Institute and current chair of the Global Vinyl Council.
"We're here as a resource to answer the questions about what our products do to improve health care, to have a lower carbon footprint, to protect products and public health. We're hoping we're seen as a resource."
Monroe spoke in a Nov. 12 interview in Nairobi, where he was attending talks with five other other representatives of vinyl trade groups worldwide.
The negotiations will run through Nov. 19, with diplomats from 170 countries and hundreds of observers from industry, environmental groups and other organizations. It's the third of five negotiation rounds planned, with two more scheduled in 2024.
It's still early in the talks to predict details about how an agreement would address specific plastics or applications, but countries are debating in general terms whether it should put some limits on plastic production or include phase-out lists of "problematic" plastic applications or chemicals of concern within plastics.
PVC has shown up on some lists of problematic materials for packaging put together groups like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Some countries have made strong comments in public sessions in Nairobi that they want the treaty to include such lists and also to look closely at chemicals and additives in plastic and potential health risks from them.
At this point, however, nations haven't said publicly what should be on any lists.
Monroe said vinyl industry officials are telling countries and others they're meeting that banning or restricting PVC or its building blocks would make it harder to meet the U.N.'s official Sustainable Development Goals.
"PVC has a really unique ability to bring clean, safe tap water to communities that need it, and if you were to have a ban, or restriction on PVC, it would create inequities," Monroe said. "And it would be impossible to reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals."
"We would be concerned on any ultimate agreement that would have any reduction in PVC or our ingredients," he said. "When we talk to folks, we're raising the issue proactively with governments to talk about the inequities that are created if you were to ban PVC."
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering an action that could potentially limit vinyl chloride monomer.
EPA is reviewing whether to put VCM, a key PVC building block, through a health risk evaluation under the Toxics Substances Control Act.
It's promised a decision by the end of the year. Monroe said VI is confident VCM would be shown to be safe in any EPA review.