This week, EU parliamentarians are voting on a proposal from the Commission to allow lead in recycled PVC, a very commonly used industrial plastic.
Lead – a chemical that can cause irreversible neurological damage, even if the person is only exposed to low doses, and also great harm to the environment – was voluntarily phased out back in 2015 by the EU PVC industry.
The Commission’s suggestion to allow lead in recycled PVC comes as a side note to a wider restriction proposal for lead in virgin PVC. The restriction part is great as it means that imported PVC will have to play by the same rules as “Made in the EU” PVC.
But at the same time, the Commission also proposes a derogation from this restriction: For recycled material. So, instead of finally stopping the use of lead in the manufacturing of PVC plastic, the proposed restriction will allow for reintroduction of PVC containing lead on the market in great quantities through the recycling route.
“Allowing lead – an extremely toxic substance – to enter the manufacturing loop will seriously hurt the trust in recycled materials”
The Parliament Resolution on the Green Deal taken in January with a strong majority, underlines the importance of developing non-toxic material cycles and preventing the reintroduction of toxic materials via the recycling route. This derogation completely contradicts this vision and, if realised, will impede European industry ambitions to create circular business models.
Successful brands and manufacturers have today set high circular ambitions. Realising these ambitions means that finding and securing clean (toxic-free) recycled material will be key. To accept material with unknown chemical content, or even known to contain up to 2% lead (which is what is suggested in the derogation) is damaging to their brand and therefore a financially unacceptable risk. These companies do not want recycled PVC with lead!
Manufacturing new products with the help of recycled materials is no doubt a good thing. It’s in line with the Green Deal and a circular economy – everyone supports it. But allowing lead – an extremely toxic substance – to enter the manufacturing loop will seriously hurt the trust in recycled materials. In addition, since recycled PVC will be mixed with virgin PVC, it will subsequently result in even bigger amounts of lead contaminated waste.
What kind of company would like to take part in this? And what consumer wants a product with lead in it?