In the face of the continuous spotlight on the PVC industry globally to meet relevant sustainability benchmarks and consider extended producer responsibility (EPR), the Vinyl Council of Australia (VCA) urges all businesses involved in the Australian PVC value chain to explore the avenues available to safeguard against potential pressures from environmental and government organisations such as those currently taking place in the US.
For those who aren’t aware, in early May 2022 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a draft consent decree that it would resolve the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) lawsuit, which alleged that the EPA unreasonably refused to rule on CBD’s 2014 petition to list discarded PVC as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
In 2014, under the Obama Administration, the EPA denied a similar petition from CBD under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but did not act on their subsequent 2014 RCRA petition. After no movement from the EPA in response to CBD’s 2014 RCRA petition to list discarded PVC as hazardous waste, in August 2021 CBD filed a lawsuit against the EPA in which they alleged that there had been unreasonable delay by the EPA to act on the petition. Following the EPA’s consent decree in May 2022, it has been agreed upon by both parties that the EPA make a tentative decision on the listing of discarded PVC as hazardous waste by 20 January 2023 and a final determination by 12 April 2024.
While a granting of the petition by the EPA would likely take years to come into effect in the US and any similar action in Australia would also require long deliberations, in the meantime the question of whether discarded PVC should be treated as hazardous waste will remain active.
As the VCA continues to monitor this case to inform members and industry stakeholders of updates and provide any necessary input, we urge businesses to consider actively pursuing EPR initiatives including opportunities to decrease potential exposure to any eventual classification through implementing sound sustainability and stewardship practices to minimise volumes of discarded and/or waste PVC.
Given that CBD’s petition is not aimed merely at PVC waste generated in the initial manufacturing stage but also that finished materials or products containing PVC are hazardous when discarded, we also recommend due consideration of the flow-on impacts such a classification in the US might have on the recycling of PVC globally and to ensure take-back and recycling schemes are being soundly implemented to maximise re-use of PVC materials and products.
One way in which your business can strongly position itself against any residual flow-back of potential classifications is through joining the VCA’s PVC Stewardship Program (PSP), which is the Australian PVC industry’s voluntary, ongoing commitment to undertaking stewardship practices and addressing relevant environmental, health and safety aspects within the lifecycle of PVC products.
The program includes over 50 Signatories from across the industry who record and report their progress annually in reaching the program’s commitments, with high performing Signatories able to publicly promote their credentials as an industry-leader in sustainability through their involvement in the program. Find out more about the benefits of signing up to the PSP and how your business can become involved: https://www.vinyl.org.au/sustainability/stewardship
Another avenue open to businesses within the PVC value chain to further promote their EPR credentials and re-use of PVC materials is our VinylCycle Label, which represents a collaborative partnership with Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) to verify recycled PVC content claims and encourage uptake and innovation relating to PVC recyclate. VinylCycle verification is available to both local and international applicants claiming at least 10% of the PVC compound by weight constitutes recycled PVC, and builds on the VCA’s PSP commitment to encourage the use of recycled PVC in products which has seen PVC recyclate usage in Australia grow significantly since 2015.
As well as providing specifiers, procurers, and consumers with a means of identifying products with genuine recycled content, VinylCycle verification allows businesses to gain recognition for use of PVC recyclate and contribution towards a circular economy for PVC, and importantly provides a framework for management, documentation, and reporting of recyclate use to publicly demonstrate this commitment to industry sustainability. To find out more about the VinylCycle Label and apply, go to: https://www.vinyl.org.au/vinylcycle
As the PVC industry and manufacturing sectors more generally face increasing pressures to exhibit an ongoing commitment to environmental improvements, it has never been more important to take advantage of the opportunities available to your business to showcase sound stewardship and sustainability practices. Membership with the Vinyl Council of Australia and the subsequent access and discounts provided for our range of industry-recognised sustainability programs and product verification schemes will help support a strong EPR stance for your business and a sustainable future for PVC.