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PVC is a commonly used plastic found in baby shampoo bottles,

packaging, saran wrap, shower curtains and thousands of other products yet
there is little public awareness of its serious health and environmental impacts. In
the U.S., an estimated 300 billion pounds of longer-lasting PVC products, such
as construction materials that last 30 to 40 years, will soon reach the end of their
useful life and require replacement and disposal. As much as 7 billion pounds of
PVC are discarded every year in the U.S. PVC disposal is the largest source of
dioxin-forming chlorine and phthalates in solid waste, as well as a major source
of lead, cadmium and organ tins-which pose serious health threats. Short-lived
products account for more than 70% of PVC disposed in America's solid waste
with 2 billion pounds discarded every year, including "blister packs" and other
packaging, plastic bottles and plastic wrap. PVC was promoted in industries as a
replacement of metals. Therefore its use increased in all types of industries very
rapidly. But side effects are so dangerous that we should avoid its use.


The amounts of PVC wastes are projected to increase more than
80% over the next 20 years, from 4.1 to 7.2 millions tones/year. Almost 90% of
these wastes are post consumer wastes.


The consumption of final PVC products according to application

sectors in Europe and in some Member States is shown below:

Europe Austria Germany Denmark France

Building 53 % 81 % 60 % 69 % 50 %
Packaging 16 % 2% 11 % 8% 30 %
Electronics/cable 9% 8% 8% 8%
Transport/cars 3% 4% 4% 6%
Furniture 3% 2% 3%
Others 16 % 3% 14 % 23 % 6%
Source: Europe, Austria, Germany (AgPU, 1997), Denmark (Moeller et al., 1996),
France (PVC working Group, 1999)


Incineration of 1 kg of PVC in the EU creates on average 0.8-1.4 kg

of hazardous wastes (in incinerators with non-wet flue gas treatment) and 0.4-0.9
kg of residues in liquid effluent (in incinerators with wet flue gas treatment).
Hazardous waste from PVC incineration will also be more likely to contaminate
the environment, as PVC increases the amount of leachates and leach able salts
in this waste significantly. Incineration of PVC creates additional costs between
20-335 Euro/tonne. PVC is responsible for 38 to 66% of the chlorine content in
Municipal solid waste. The formation of dioxins due to PVC has been beyond the
scope of the study. Diverting PVC from incineration always leads to
environmental improvements. Nevertheless, PVC incineration is estimated to
increase more than fivefold over the next 20 years in a business-as-usual
scenario, from currently 0.5 million tones/year to 2.6-2.9 million tonnes/year.

• More than 100 municipal waste incinerators in the U.S. burn 500 to 600
million pounds of PVC each year, forming highly toxic dioxins and
releasing toxic additives to the air and in ash disposed of on land.
• Open burning of solid waste, which contains PVC, is a major source of
dioxin air emissions. Backyard burning of PVC household trash is
unrestricted in Michigan and Pennsylvania, partially restricted in 30 states
and banned in 18 states.
• The incineration of medical waste is being steadily replaced by cleaner
non-burn technologies.
• When burned, PVC plastic forms dioxins, a highly toxic group of chemicals
that build up in the food chain, can cause cancer and harms the immune
and reproductive systems.
• PVC is the leading contributor of chlorine to four combustion sources
municipal solid waste incinerators, backyard burn barrels, medical waste
incinerators and secondary copper smelters that account for an estimated
80% of dioxin air emissions (USEPA).
FLORIDA 45,364 13 37.1%
NEW YORK 37,517 10 24.4%
MASSACHUSETTS 28,145 7 54.6%
VIRGINIA 18,806 5 27.9%
PENNSYLVANIA 17,746 6 22.6%
CONNECTICUT 16,257 6 55.4%
MINNESOTA 14,432 15 46.1%
MARYLAND 12,486 3 22.6%
MAINE 5,448 4 66.2%
HAWAII 3,454 1 32.7%
NEW HAMPSHIRE 1,675 2 22.2%

TOTAL 250,405 104



Dioxin formation is the Achilles heel of PVC. Burning PVC plastic,

which contains 57% chlorine when pure, forms dioxins, a highly toxic group of
chemicals that build up in the food chain. PVC is the major contributor of chlorine
to four combustion sources—municipal solid waste incinerators, backyard burn
barrels, medical waste incinerators and secondary copper smelters—that
account for a significant portion of dioxin air emissions. In the most recent
USEPA Inventory of Sources of Dioxin in the United States, these four sources
accounted for more than 80% of dioxin emissions to air based on data collected
in 1995. Since then, the closure of many incinerators and tighter regulations have
reduced dioxin air emissions from waste incineration, while increasing the
proportion of dioxin disposed of in landfills with incinerator ash. The PVC content
in the waste steam fed to incinerators has been linked to elevated levels of
dioxins in stack air emissions and incinerator ash.
Incineration and open burning of PVC-laden waste seriously
impacts public health and the environment. More than 100 municipal waste
incinerators in the U.S. burn 500 to 600 million pounds of PVC each year,
forming highly toxic dioxins that are released to the air and disposed of on land
as ash. The biggest PVC-burning states include Massachusetts, Connecticut,
Maine—which all burn more than half of their waste— Florida, New York,
Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Indiana and
The incineration of medical waste, which has the highest PVC
content of any waste stream, is finally being replaced across the U.S. by cleaner
non burn technologies after years of community activism and leadership by
environmentally-minded hospitals.
Backyard burning of PVC-containing household trash is not regulated at the
federal level and is poorly regulated by the states. There are no restrictions on
backyard burning in Michigan and Pennsylvania. It is partially restricted in 30
states, and banned in 18 states.


Recycling was found not to be qualified to contribute significantly to

the management of PVC waste in the next decades, reaching at most 18% of
total waste in 2020. Assuming that the maximum potential of PVC recycling is
achieved, incineration of PVC waste would still increase more than fourfold to
2.2-2.5 million tones in 2020. Current recycling rates are at less than 3%. Most
current recycling (2%) is down cycling - the recycling of PVC into low quality
recycled that do not replace virgin PVC – and therefore has no environmental
benefits. Almost all PVC wastes contain hazardous additives.
Recycling these wastes leads to a spreading of these hazardous
substances into new products. High-quality recycling of PVC wastes without
spreading lead, cadmium or PCBs into the recycled is estimated to reach a
maximum of 5% by 2020. Chemical recycling was found to be not economically

Unfortunately, PVC recycling is not the answer. The amount of PVC

products that are recycled is negligible, with estimates ranging from only 0.1% to
3%. PVC is very difficult to recycle because of the many different formulations
used to make PVC products. Its composition varies because of the many
additives used to make PVC products. When these different formulations of PVC
are mixed together, they cannot readily be separated which is necessary to
recycle the PVC into its original formulation. It’s also virtually impossible to create
a formulation that can be used for a specific application. PVC can never be truly
recycled into the same quality material—it usually ends up being made into lower
quality products with less stringent requirements such as park benches or speed
bumps. When PVC products are mixed in with the recycling of non-chlorinated
plastics, such as in the “all-bottle” recycling programs favored by the plastics
industry, they contaminate the entire recycling process. Although other types of
non-chlorine plastics make up more than 95% of all plastic bottles, introducing
only one PVC bottle into the recycling process can contaminate 100,000 bottles,
rendering the entire stock unusable for making new bottles or products of similar
quality. PVC also increases the toxic impacts of other discarded products such as
computers, automobiles and corrugated cardboard during the recycling process.


The studies show multiple significant environmental and/or

economic problems for each of the PVC waste disposal options. They show that
neither incineration nor landfill is safe, and that recycling cannot solve the
problem. It is irresponsible to keep manufacturing such a material. Its
manufacture and use needs to be phased out as soon as possible, starting with
short-lived applications such as packaging. Existing wastes need to be fully
separated from the general waste stream and safely stored separately until an
environmentally safe destruction technology has been established. The costs
should be borne by the producer.
Greenpeace advocates that the following measures be taken against PVC:

• Phase out of short-lived PVC uses such as packaging and toys,
• Phase out of PVC medical devices, for which alternatives are
• Phase out of the use of hazardous stabilizers and softeners,
• Ban on incineration and land filling of PVC wastes,
• Ban on recycling of PVC containing hazardous additives, and
• Producer responsibility for the separation of PVC from the general
waste stream and temporary storage until a waste solution has
been found and implemented by the producer,
2. Mid-Term Action
• Develop and implement programme on phase out of entire PVC



Land disposal of PVC is also problematic. Dumping PVC in landfills

poses significant long-term environmental threats due to leaching of toxic
additives into groundwater, dioxin-forming landfill fires, and the release of toxic
emissions in landfill gases. Land disposal is the final fate of between 2 billion and
4 billion pounds of PVC that are discarded every year at some 1,800 municipal
waste landfills in the U.S.
Most PVC in construction and demolition debris ends up in landfills,
many of which are unlined and cannot capture any contaminants that leak out.
An average of 8,400 landfill fires is reported every year in the U.S., contributing
further to PVC waste combustion.


Land filling of PVC results in the release of hazardous softeners.
Releases of hazardous stabilisers cannot be excluded. Stabilisers are ingredients
that are generally added to the PVC polymer in order to prevent thermal
degradation and hydrogen chloride evolution during processing and to give the
finished article optimum properties (heat and UV stability). Approximately 1-8 %
may be added to PVC formulation depending on other components and the final
The most important group of stabilisers are (based on Moeller et al, 1996)

• Metal salts (i.e. calcium and zinc stearates, basic lead sulphate and lead
• Organo metals (i.e. mono- and diorganotin, tin thioglycolate)
• Organo phosphites (i.e. trialkyl-phosphites)
• Epoxy compounds (i.e. epoxidised Soya bean oil, sunflower oil and
linseed oil)
• Antioxidants, polyols (i.e. BHT, pentaerythritol)
These releases will occur for a very long period of time - longer
than the guarantee of the technical barrier of the landfill. PVC waste will
furthermore contribute to the formation of dioxins and furans in landfill fires.
Ettala et al (1996) have investigated landfill fires in Finland. On
average, there are 633 sanitary landfills in operation in Finland. In the period of
1987-92 between 360 and 380 landfill fires occurred annually. One-quarter were
deep fires at a depth of more than 2m and a maximum depth of 8m. Deep fires
are difficult to extinguish and last longer than surface fires.
The most severe deep fires lasted for 2 months. Only four fires
occurred in waste older than 2 years. In 400 sanitary landfills in Sweden, 200-
250 fires have been reported. According to international experts11, landfill fires
are common in Iceland because of arson. Other replies considered that landfill
fires are very uncommon but reliable statistics were lacking. Disposal of ash,
deliberate fire starting and insufficient covering or compacting were reported to
be the most common causes for landfill fires. Possible air flow through drainage
pipes has been one reason for landfill fires in the U.K.




California 161 328,260
Texas 175 176,896
New York 26 116,088
Ohio 44 100,509
Illinois 51 98,896
Michigan 52 96,241
Florida 100 76,817
Georgia 60 69,177
Pennsylvania 49 60,844
New Jersey 60 56,166
North Carolina 41 54,842
Indiana 35 52,986
Washington 21 49,128
Virginia 67 48,636
Maryland 20 42,722
Remaining States * 805 610,553
Total 1,767

By comparing the above data of incineration & land filling, the writer
is of the opinion that land filling of PVC is a lesser evil as compared to the
incineration. As incineration of PVC results in pollution of world’s atmosphere
while land filling of PVC results in pollution of a specific piece of land.


All investigations into the impact of landfill conditions on different
materials or substances have to take two major factors into consideration: time
and scale. To evaluate the behavior of PVC in landfills suitable methods had to
be developed to overcome these factors. Investigations in earlier studies showed
that the final state of organic substances in a staunch free landfill is always the
same: an aerobic stabilised humic-like substance, nearly water insoluble. The
same result can be reached by aerobic degradation within a much shorter time
span. To achieve comparability between tests and the real behavior of PVC in
landfill, PVC samples from a landfill were analyzed. At the second stage,
examinations were carried out at container size under aerobic thermophilic
conditions at a biological waste treatment plant. In laboratory scale the samples
were exposed to aerobic thermophilic conditions, to anaerobic thermophilic
conditions and to alternating aerobic-anaerobic conditions.
On the basis of performed analysis it is to conclude that PVC-
additives during staying for more than 20 years in a landfill will neither
degrade completely nor release completely from PVC products.


Due to operation control of the plant the heat production which
causes high temperature during aerobic degradation processes was restricted.
Therefore the temperatures were generally lower than in lysimeter investigations.
The intensive degradation phase in the waste treatment plant usually takes about
12 days dependent on the amount of waste to be treated. This phase is carried
out in containers which will be emptied after that time. Therefore the PVC
samples could not be stored in the waste continuously. The intervals of
temperature of about 20°C in figure below show the times the PVC was stored
while waiting for the next run of waste treatment.
The PVC-materials changed during the incubation in the biological waste
treatment plant. Both, optically and mechanically they showed differences to the
raw materials. Analysis of the materials was carried out similarly to investigations
during the lysimeter tests. Changes in materials were examined by electron
scanning microscopy, tensibility tests, and analysis of molecular weight
distribution and analysis of the contents of additives. Investigations on the
behavior of PVC products in the biological waste treatment plant showed clearly
recognizable effects on the PVC.

Course of temperature and carbon dioxide production in lysimeter (aerobic, without added PVC)

The results show a clear loss of plasticiser during the lysimeter

studies under aerobic thermophilic conditions within the short time of
examinations. Measured losses from the materials taken from the lysimeters 4
and 6 are within the tolerance of the determination method. The trend towards a
decreasing content of plasticiser is probable. A clear loss of plasticiser has
occurred to the car interior material in the aerobic biological treatment plant
supporting the results from lysimeter 2. The theory to explain the differences
between the losses of plasticiser between the used car interior and the
packaging foil with the dependence on the thickness of the material are
strengthened by the results from lysimeter 6 and the biological treatment plant. In
these investigations too the percentage of loss of plasticiser is higher from the
thin material.
The content of the plasticiser DIDP in both flooring materials shows
no decrease following the aerobic treatment in lysimeter 2. On the one hand it
could be explained with the fact that DIDP will leach much slower than DEHP or it
would not leach out.
Any loss of stabiliser leads to emissions in Leachate. The stabiliser
content was investigated by analysis of the heavy metal contents before and
after storing the PVC-materials in the lysimeters. In this investigation only the
samples containing stabilisers based on heavy metals were tested. These are
PVC II, PVC VI, PVC V, PVC VI and PVC VII. In spite of its content of Ba/Zn-
stabiliser PVC III was not investigated because PVC II contains the same
elements. The results are summarized in table below.

Material Examined condition Contents of heavy metals in % by weight

Pb Ba Zn Cd
PVC II Raw material - 0,01 0,02 -
Lysimeter 2; aerobic lysimeter 6; Anaerobic 0,09 0,03 0,02 0,01
-- --
PVC IV Raw material 2,8 - - -
Lysimeter 2; Aerobic lysimeter 6; Anaerobic 1,2 1,8
-- -- --
PVC V Raw material - 0,18 - 0,33
Lysimeter 2; Aerobic lysimeter 6; Anaerobic 0,13 0,16 0,33
biol. waste treatment plant 0,16 0,33
--- --- 0,31
PVC VI Raw material - <0,01 0,01 -
Lysimeter 2; Aerobic lysimeter 6; Anaerobic --- 0,15 0,04 0,04 0,05 ---
Biol. Waste Treatment Plant 0,16 0,05

PVC VII Raw Material - 0,14 - 0,39

Lysimeter 2; Aerobic - 0,13 - 0,38


To examine gaseous emissions from PVC the condensate from
lysimeter gas and the gas, enriched on charcoal, from the lysimeters were
analyzed to identify differences in composition and possible detrimental
substances in gas from waste not contaminated with PVC and waste enriched
with PVC. Only aerobic and aerobic-anaerobic lysimeters were included in the
investigation because of the constant gas flow through the waste. This flow was
caused by aeration of the lysimeters. Gas flow from anaerobic lysimeters can not
be assumed as constant and no analysis was undertaken. The result indicates
that volatile substances are released in case of the presence of PVC in
degrading waste.


To examine emissions from PVC, the Leachate from the lysimeters
was analyzed to investigate differences in composition and pollution of Leachate
from waste not contaminated with PVC and waste enriched with PVC. The
samples were taken from the lysimeters half-way through and at the end of the
The results show no certain differences between the lysimeters
containing PVC and the lysimeters without PVC. There are normal differences
between the three conditions aerobic, aerobic-anaerobic and anaerobic, but
there is no connection to the PVC materials.
To evaluate emissions of heavy metals caused by the PVC
stabilisers, the Leachate from the lysimeters was analyzed by atom absorption
spectroscopy. The results are shown in table below.
Lysimeter Lead [mg/l] Zinc [mg/l]
after after after after after after
45 90 45 90 45 90
days days days days days days
• Aerobic without PVC 0.08 0.08 0.77 0.50 17.1 5.18
• Aerobic with PVC 0.04 0.04 0.25 0.27 1.38 1.32
• Aerobic-Anaerobic
0.03 0.03 0.33 0.66 33.0 20.8
without PVC
• Aerobic-Anaerobic
0.01 0.05 0.37 0.50 1.30 3.48
with PVC
• Anaerobic without PVC 0.02 0.02 0.23 0.12 0.21 0.16
• Anaerobic with PVC 0.05 0.02 0.40 0.12 0.23 0.18

Results from the analysis of heavy metals in the Leachate of the lysimeters

 The aerobic thermophilic condition is considered to accelerate landfill
degradation processes and to provoke a state of degradation, which is
similar to the state of degradation in the final aerobic landfill phase.

 Landfills are very heterogeneous in terms of waste composition and

physico-chemical characteristics not only between landfills but also
within a single landfill. PVC products are subjected to different
degradation processes in landfills which are determined by the
parameters temperature, moisture, presence of oxygen, activity of micro-
organisms and the interactions between parameters at different stages
of the ageing development of landfills.

 Changes in the PVC products are reported from aerobic as well as from
anaerobic conditions. In real landfills aerobic conditions prevails in the
initial stage, which is rather short. Losses of Phthalates from PVC
materials under soil-buried (aerobic) conditions are reported to amount
to 30-35% of the total content.
 During the anaerobic phases of the landfill, degradation of PVC products
appears to be slower than under aerobic thermophilic conditions but the
release of phthalates in particular, will probably continue and an attack
on the PVC polymer, at least caused by high temperatures which may
occur in large landfill sites, cannot be excluded.

 The analysis of materials being disposed of in a landfill more than 20

years ago still showed considerable amounts of plasticisers and
stabilisers. A release of phthalates under methanogenic conditions is
reported in the literature in a range of 4 to 40 %.

 Heavy metals are more likely to be released under acidogenic conditions

while phthalates are particularly released during aerobic and
methanogenic stages of landfill development.

 With regard to the release of phthalates again different processes are to

be distinguished, i.e. physical, hydrolytic and biological effects occur
concurrently. The fate of released additives is in case of phthalates
depending on hydrolytic and biological effects, on the retention capacity
of the waste matrix, on adsorption to particulate matter and co-transport.
In case of heavy metals, particularly acidity, the retention capacity of the
waste matrix and hydraulic effects determine emissions.

 The degradation of phthalates from PVC under methanogenic conditions

is observed to be higher than under acidogenic conditions. Results from
studies on the degradability of phthalates under landfill conditions show
that degradation of PAEs occur, however, the rate of degradation does
appear to be influenced by the length of their side chain. Both, PAEs and
phthalic monoesters can be detected in landfill Leachate, which indicates
that these substances are not completely degraded.
 There is no evidence that the release of additives will come to a
standstill. Thus, it is expected that this process will last for a very long
time which cannot be estimated at a probably steady decreasing level.
Nowadays the technical guarantee for landfill bottom liners and pipes for
Leachate collection is restricted to 80 years. Emissions resulting from
the presence of PVC in landfills are likely to last longer than the
guarantee of the technical barrier.

 Emissions to environmental media such as air, soil and groundwater is to

be expected particularly from landfills without active environmental
protection measures (old landfills). Furthermore, as there is evidence
that phthalates, DEHP mainly, are not fully eliminated through current
Leachate treatment, even from landfill sites equipped with Leachate
collection system and treatment of Leachate either on-site or off-site,
emissions to aquatic ecosystems cannot be excluded.

Safer alternatives to PVC are widely available and effective for

almost all major uses in building materials, medical products, packaging, office
supplies, toys and consumer goods. PVC is the most environmentally harmful
plastic. Many other plastic resins can substitute more safely for PVC when
natural materials are not available.
PVC alternatives are affordable and already competitive in the
market place. In many cases, the alternatives are only slightly more costly than
PVC, and in some cases the costs of the alternative materials are comparable to
PVC when measured over the useful life of the product.
Phasing out PVC in favor of safer alternatives is economically
achievable. A PVC phase-out will likely require the same total employment as
PVC production. The current jobs associated with U.S. PVC production (an
estimated 9,000 in VCM and PVC resin production, and 126,000 in PVC
fabrication) would simply be translated into production of the same products from
safer plastic resins.


To end the myriad of problems created by PVC disposal, we
recommend the following policies and activities.
 Policymakers at the local, state and federal level should enact and
implement laws that steadily reduce the impacts of PVC disposal and lead
to a complete phase-out of PVC use and waste incineration within ten
years (see box below).

 A new materials policy for PVC that embraces aggressive source

reduction of PVC should be adopted to steadily reduce the use of PVC
over time.
 Federal and state waste management priorities should be changed to
make incineration of PVC waste the least preferable option. In the interim,
any PVC waste generated should be diverted away from incineration to
hazardous waste landfills.

 Consumers should take personal action to buy PVC free alternatives and
to remove PVC from their trash for management as household hazardous

 Communities should continue to organize against PVC-related dioxin

sources such as waste incinerators while working to promote safer


Accomplish Within Three Years
1. Ban all open waste burning.
2. Educate the public about PVC hazards.
3. Ban the incineration of PVC waste.
4. Collect PVC products separately from other waste.
5. In the interim, divert PVC away from incineration to hazardous waste landfills.

Accomplish Within Five Years

6. Establish our Right-to-Know about PVC.

7. Label all PVC products with warnings.
8. Give preference to PVC-free purchasing.
9. Ban PVC use in bottles and disposable packaging.
10. Ban sale of PVC with lead or cadmium.

Accomplish Within Seven Years

11. Phase out other disposable PVC uses.

12. Phase out other high hazard PVC uses.
13. If safer alternatives are not yet available, extend the PVC phase-out
deadlines for specific purposes.
14. Fund efforts to reduce the amount of PVC generated through fees on the
PVC content of products.

Accomplish Within Ten Years

15. Phase out remaining durable PVC uses.

16. Decommission municipal waste incinerators in favor of zero waste.