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European PVC Industry Takes Steps Toward Sustainability

10:58 AM MST | November 13, 2009 | By VINYL 2010

PVC: European Industry Steps toward Sustainable Development by Vinyl 2010

 

As the European PVC industry’s 10-year voluntary commitment for sustainable development and product stewardship reaches its term, it is an excellent time to review the success of the Vinyl 2010 Initiative.

The European PVC industry today represents more than 21,000 companies that employ over half a million people.  At the end of last year, and as a result of the global recession, along with most of the world’s industries, the steady growth in demand for PVC products faltered. Whilst the value-for-money that is inherent in PVC products gives it some protection from the worst extents of recessionary conditions, in Europe, the consumption fell back to just around 6 million m.t. after having peaked at 6.5 million m.t. in 2007.

 

Despite the current economic downturn, the PVC industry has remained resolute in its dedication to sustainable development expressed through the Vinyl 2010 voluntary commitment. Since this initiative was launched in 2000, the end-of-life recycling loop has begun to be closed in part thanks to the almost half a million tonnes of unregulated post-consumer PVC that have been recycled through Vinyl 2010’s Recovinyl system. Last year alone, a total of 194,950 tonnes of mostly pipes, windows, flooring, and roofing components were recovered thanks to the contribution of Vinyl 2010 members.

 

The Chairman of Vinyl 2010, Ashley Reed, is satisfied with the difference Vinyl 2010 is making: “The members of Vinyl 2010 have shown again and again that PVC is one of the leading sectors when it comes to creatively engaging and then addressing its environmental responsibilities. In the last decade, the whole value chain has proved that it can work together to meet extremely challenging objectives and as a consequence the reputation of the industry has changed beyond recognition”.

 

A lot has been accomplished in the last few years but many challenges still lay ahead. “Vinyl 2010 started from a defensive point of view and has focused on politicians to change the perception of PVC. We have succeeded in this and our industry is being taken seriously. The challenge is to profile PVC from the perspective of sustainability. Our sector has nothing to be ashamed of because we deliver products and materials that contribute greatly to sustainable society as a whole,” says Henk ten Hove, Vinyl 2010 Board member and Corporate Vice president of Wavin B.V.  

 

In this sense, The Vinyl 2010 voluntary program is a unique global initiative, involving both the upstream and downstream elements of the industry value chain, from raw material suppliers, to additive manufacturers and the converters who manufacture and distribute the products. These sectors are represented by the Vinyl 2010 partner associations: ESPA (European Stabiliser Producers Association) ECPI (European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates), ECVM (European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers), and EuPC (the European Plastics Converters).

“The vinyl industry can be proud that it has taken the initiative to respond to the social demand for a more sustainable future through the development of a voluntary commitment, without waiting for the heavy hand of national governments or European Union regulators. In terms of end-of-life waste management and the development of innovative, less environmentally impacting technologies, it is the desire of the PVC industry to take a proactive and open approach to meeting the increasing demands of society whilst finding solutions to reduce its environmental footprint,” explains Michael Kundel, Vinyl 2010 Board Member and Executive Board Member responsible for Sales & Marketing at Renolit AG.

 

The added-value of recycling

Recycling is not only good for the environment. It can also help companies to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. On the one hand, citizens increasingly demand that the industry shares its responsibility for the end-of-life of its products. On the other, those in charge of taking purchasing decisions also have to operate under strict environmental and sustainable development policies. Being able to offer a product that can demonstrate that it has a lower ecological impact will definitely make the difference between getting a sale or not.

As David Clark, Vinyl 2010 Board Member and Managing Director of Tarkett Ltd. explains, “I am thrilled to be part of an industry which has voluntarily taken the lead in these important issues. Since Tarkett joined Vinyl 2010, we have experienced the great feeling of being able to address our customers’ concerns about the environmental footprint of our products and technologies. The industry has shown its determination to make environmental stewardship a key business goal and that is finally paying off”. 

 

To find out the level of influence environmental factors have on the selection of suppliers, in 2008 the European Council of Vinyl Manufactures (ECVM) conducted a survey in ten EU countries. The results showed that almost half of the interviewed local authorities, healthcare, construction and retail organisations always take environmental factors into consideration. What is more, 18% of the purchasers indicated that environmental criteria have a critical influence on their decisions. 

 

Out of all the potential factors, the study shows that the use and sale of environmentally friendly products, the reduction of waste and recycling are the most influencing ones. “Vinyl 2010 partner companies are certainly ahead of their competitors when it comes to demonstrating a commitment to the responsible management of end-of-life PVC products. Being part of this initiative shows a clear commitment to corporate social responsibility which customers appreciate more and more everyday”, explains EuPC managing director, Alexandre Dangis.  

 

In order to create a mechanism to kick-start a whole new commercially sustainable industry for the recycling of  post-consumer PVC products at the end of life, Vinyl 2010 set up an operation called ‘’Recovinyl’’ in 2005.  Through Recovinyl, financial incentives are provided to the waste management industry across Europe to support the collection, separation and reprocessing of PVC coming from waste streams that fall outside the Packaging, the End of Life Vehicles or the Electrical Waste EU regulations. The payment of incentives has helped to offset the costs of starting up in the recycling of PVC products and to establish a supplier-purchaser relationship for recyclates.  PVC is an excellent product for recycling and the key is to create a steady and reliable flow of valuable recyclates that will ensure a self-sustaining industry that can grow to be commercially viable in the longer term.

 

In 2007 Vinyl 2010 created the Vinyl Foundation,  a non-profit making trust to coordinate the collection of contributions from PVC converters to Vinyl 2010’s recycling initiatives.  The Vinyl Foundation provides an independent and confidential “black-box” system administered by KPMG Fiduciaire to administrate an equitable funding system for the converting industry which is capable of collecting contributions from all PVC converters, including those not represented in the Vinyl 2010 member trade associations.

 

The PVC industry’s commitment to sustainable development goes well beyond just improvements in technology, processes and recycling. Education and dialogue are two central pillars of the programme. Initiatives such as the Vinyl 2010 annual Essay Competition, launched in 2007, have been organised to promote dialogue around sustainable development themes. The Essay Competition has actively involved more than a thousand young people in addressing and proposing solutions to the important environmental challenges our planet is facing.

 

In partnership with NGO’s, student associations, media and other relevant stakeholders, Vinyl 2010 has encouraged young people around the globe to engage in an exchange of views on the big issues mankind is today facing. According to the Chair of the judging panel and Head of the Sustainable Development Taskforce for the Belgium’s Federal Planning Bureau, Nadine Gouzée, “young people are very concerned about society’s common future and they are thinking critically about viable solutions questioning those provided by previous generations”.

 

Vinyl 2010 has come a long way since it was launched almost ten years ago. Mutual understanding between industry and society has been instrumental to continue moving forward. The sharing of responsibility throughout a material’s lifecycle is essential for all industrial sectors.  In this respect, perhaps because it was formerly the target of much environmental criticism, the PVC industry has been highly progressive in its approach and the Vinyl 2010 initiative has been recognised, and is being imitated, world-wide as a model for industrial voluntary commitments.













 
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