Global and local PVC community rejects Plastics Pact’s list of “problematic plastics”

The Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA), supported by members of the Global Vinyls Council (GVC), has rejected the Phase 1 list of “problematic and unnecessary plastics” published recently by the SA Plastics Pact. This list advocates for these plastics in packaging to be phased out by members by the end of 2022 as part of ongoing work towards the fulfilment of its Roadmap to 2025.

Amongst this list of 12 items, the Plastics Pact has listed PVC rigid packaging (including bottles, except for medicine packaging), pallet shrink wrap and labels, stating that ‘PVC has a very low recycling rate due to the small market size and there are environmental concerns in its production and end of life, as well as the additives included in PVC materials.’

‘Although we are a signatory of the SA Plastics Pact, SAVA rejects and opposes the inclusion of PVC packaging in the strongest possible terms. Our latest recycling figures clearly show that there is a strong demand for PVC recyclate in South Africa. During the 2020 reporting period, a total amount of 21 433 tons of PVC were recycled in our country, of which 13 440 tonnes were flexible (PVC-P) and 7 992 tonnes were rigid (PVC-U). PVC was the only polymer to have recorded a year-on-year increase of 9.5% despite very difficult trading conditions such as global raw material shortages and supply chain issues, high material costs, interrupted electricity supply due to load shedding and the ravaging effects of Covid-19. The recent global shortage in raw materials and high polymer prices has driven the demand for recyclate even further,’ says Monique Holtzhausen, CEO of SAVA.

PVC is an intrinsically low-carbon plastic: 57% of its molecular weight is chlorine derived from common salt;
5% is hydrogen; and 38% is carbon. It is extremely durable and cost efficient, and it can be recycled several times at the end of its life without losing its essential properties.  Using it as packaging can help preserve and conserve food by guaranteeing a longer shelf-life, improving food safety, reducing bacterial proliferation and protecting against external contamination. For this reason, the global PVC community has also rejected the Plastics Pact’s list which is influenced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, warning that it could pose risks to the public by eliminating certain types of packaging.

Ned Monroe, President and CEO of the Vinyl Institute in America, said: ‘PVC packaging protects people’s food and medicine. Their list could lead legislators and regulators to deprive the public of life-enhancing applications. Implementing arbitrary restrictions on PVC packaging will not improve the recycling rate of other plastics because there is so little PVC in the curb side collection stream.’

In the USA and Canada, more than 498 951607 kilograms (1.1 billion pounds) of vinyl materials are recycled annually – which includes 64 410 116 kg (142 million pounds) of post-consumer vinyl materials. In Europe, 6.5 million tonnes of PVC have been recycled since 2000, saving 13 million tonnes of CO2 as a result during this time.

Addressing the environmental, health and safety concerns highlighted by the Plastics Pact, SAVA reiterates that all of its members are signatories of its Product Stewardship Commitment (PSC), which addresses the PVC industry’s environmental issues.

‘Our PSC is based on international health and safety standards and best practice models, which specifies sustainable manufacturing, sustainable use of additives, closed loop management and sustainability awareness. In order to become a member of SAVA, companies have to sign our PSC whereby they agree to limit VCM emissions during production processes, commit themselves to mercury-free production, and the sustainable use of additives. Members have to submit their completed PSC Survey annually in order to be awarded the Vinyl Product Label as proof that they comply and meet our health, safety and sustainability standards,’ Monique reiterates.  She added that local manufacturers of PVC packaging are also concerned that the Plastic Pact’s statement will directly impact thousands of jobs during a time when most companies are fighting for survival.

‘The plastics industry contributed 20% to our country’s manufacturing GDP in 2020. The industry is dominated by the packaging industry and any decision to ban a specific stream will have dire consequences on thousands of people. Although only 9% of the locally consumed PVC goes into packaging such as bottles, thermoformed punnets, blister packs, clingfilm and other flexible packaging, it is important to note that it has very specific and necessary application values that cannot be ignored.’

In the final analysis, SAVA stresses that is important to remember that the SA Plastics Pact does not have any legal right to ban packaging materials. They may voice opinions and could try to influence decisions, but the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) is the sole body in South Africa that has the jurisdiction to decide what can and cannot be used as packaging material. Before any such decisions can be taken, careful consideration needs to be taken about the rights and livelihoods of workers. Much more consultation between government and industry is required to ensure that the replacement materials selected for PVC (or other plastics) are as economical, recyclable, effective and fit-for-purpose.