In a baffling move earlier on in the month, the EU voted to block the use of recycled PVC. At a time when we’re all being encouraged to recycle more and promote the circular economy, this move makes little sense to me.

A vote against science

I was pointed to this news on Twitter. VinylPlus® had made a statement on their website giving their reaction to the vote:

VinylPlus®, the voluntary commitment to sustainable development of the European PVC industry, regrets the outcome of today’s vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg concerning the proposed derogation for the continuous use of recycled PVC containing legacy lead substances. This vote contradicts the outcome of the rigorous scientific evaluation carried out over the last five years by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) which concluded that continued recycling is currently the best waste management option for PVC wastes containing such additives. See ECHA’s opinion here.

In the absence of any alternative solution, the logic of today’s vote is that many end-of-life PVC articles from long-life applications will have to be disposed of by incineration or landfill, leading to a much higher environmental burden for the next generations. The vote also implies delaying the restriction on the imports of lead containing PVC articles to Europe. The resulting legislative uncertainty jeopardises the investment in recycling technology, undermines the European strategy for plastics in Circular Economy and impacts considerably the ability to reach the recycling targets of the European Circular Plastics Alliance.

Its worth reading up more on ECHA’s opinion. I did some digging and there was extensive scientific research carried out. In short, it was decided by those involved that the best way to reuse PVC, including PVC windows and doors, was to recycle it. Given the age of the PVC going to be recycled, its likely that a small % of lead additives may well be in the product. That research however concluded that rather put the PVC in the ground or incinerating the material, both options which would have a much larger environmental impact, allowing them to be recycled would keep them out of the ground and in use, which would be the least harmful solution.

This vote however puts an end to that. And as the statement above suggests, as there was no alternative method of reuse put forward, the only solutions for end-of-life PVC would be to put it back in the ground or to incinerate it. Its baffling as the original decision to recycle was based upon scientific research, and would help reach recycling targets and boost the circular economy. All of that now looks to be in major trouble.

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Wider ramifications

I supposed the vote to ban the use of recycled PVC would not have been so bad if the EU had told everyone involved in recycling PVC what the alternative was. However, there was no alternative given.

I am struggling to figure out the reason why they would vote against it. Have they had more information which has come to light which could suggest recycled PVC could cause more harm than putting it into landfill? I doubt it. Maybe they do have an alternative, but simply haven’t announced it yet? Not really. They would have suggested the alternative at the time of the vote. So why shoot yourself in the foot in such a big way and cause more damage to the environment?

My only guess is that there has been some pressure applied from other quarters, perhaps those with interest in other parts of the supply chain? Its only a guess, because I’m out of reasonable reasons as to why they would vote to stop such a basic fundamental of good environmental policy.

There are wider ramifications here. Consider for a moment that major systems companies in our industry, like VEKA, Deceuninck etc, have invested millions of pounds and euros into facilities specifically for recycling old PVC. What does this decision mean for them? Will they still be able to recycle old frames? Even if they can, if the EU has voted to block the use of the products, what use would there be?

Now, as the UK is no longer a member of the EU, and we’re now in a transition period until the end of the year, I’m hoping that this vote does not apply to the UK. Voting to stop recycling of any material is a nonsense to me. So, what I would hope is that the UK would see this as an opportunity to take the lead in being the global frontrunner on PVC recycling. We already do such a good job already, with the likes of Eurocell and VEKA boasting impressive facilities in this country, keeping millions of old window and doors frames out of the ground each year. I hope that we can now be a beacon across the contient and show that continuing to recycle PVC is absolutely the right way to go.

I am still looking into this story, trying to figure out the reasoning behind the EU vote. So as I find more information I will update this story as and when required.

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