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Environmental Protection & Preservation

Major Corporations Phase Out PVC from Packaging

Microsoft, along with Kaiser Permanente, HP, and others, announced they have joined the fast-growing ranks of major corporations demonstrating concern about the environmental health impacts of their products or packaging by phasing out PVC plastic (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl). This is significant for residents of Michigan, which ranks sixth nationally in the amount of landfilled PVC waste -- 96,241 tons every year. Hazardous chemicals are used and released in this commonly used material, the second highest selling plastic in the world. Studies show links between chemicals created and used during the PVC lifecycle and cancer, reproductive and immune system damage, and asthma.

Some automakers have also committed to phasing out PVC in passenger vehicles -- a major use of PVC and plastics worldwide. According to a national report released earlier this year, Moving Toward Sustainable Plastics -- A Report Card on the Leading Automakers, the Ecology Center found that Toyota and Honda have committed to phasing out PVC in their products, while some Michigan-based auto companies lag behind.

In the health care industry, Kaiser Permamente, the largest non-profit health care system in the US, has committed to phasing out PVC in construction materials. Meanwhile, several local hospitals have also made strides in reducing PVC usage, including St. Joseph's Mercy in Ann Arbor. This is particularly important for Michigan, given the health and environmental hazards posed by PVC disposal in the state.

"Michigan gets a triple whammy with PVC waste. First, we don't have meaningful restrictions on backyard burning of plastic waste so toxic pollution results. Second, we still have municipal incinerators that burn trash, including toxic PVC. Those incinerators then spew pollution like dioxin into the air we breathe, and onto farm fields and water where it builds up in the food chain. And third, Michigan is a magnet for out of state waste where we bury other people's toxic plastic. All of this adds up to a toxic mess," said Brad Van Guilder, Organizing Director for the Ecology Center.

New national PVC phase-out developments include the following:
  • Microsoft announced that by the end of 2005 it will have completed its PVC packaging phase out, which has already resulted in the elimination of 361,000 pounds of PVC since July, 2005.
  • Crabtree & Evelyn, an international manufacturer and retailer of personal care products, toiletries, home fragrance products and fine foods, has announced it will phase out PVC in its packaging. Crabtree & Evelyn has already begun to phase out PVC in existing and all new product lines, and is developing a complete PVC phase out timeline.
  • Kaiser Permanente has announced phasing out PVC wherever possible in millions of square feet in new construction to be built over the next decade. Kaiser vendors have developed PVC-free wall protection products and PVC-free carpeting.
Other PVC phase-out announcements include the following:
  • HP announced on November 1, 2005 that it plans to eliminate its remaining uses of PVC as safer alternatives are available. The company has removed PVC from all external case parts. In correspondence with HP, they noted that they will be out of all PVC packaging in two months. The Computer Take Back Campaign has worked with HP and other electronic companies to replace PVC and other harmful materials of concern with safer alternatives.
  • Honda has made a commitment to reducing PVC use as much as possible, with plans to replace nearly all applications with PVC alternatives in the near future.
  • Toyota is actively engaged in reducing the volume of PVC resin used in its vehicles, already getting PVC out of several major vehicle components, including electrical wiring and instrument panel covers.
  • Catholic Healthcare West, a healthcare system with 40 hospitals, announced on November 21, 2005, it awarded a five year, $70 million contract to B.Braun to supply CHW with PVC-free and DEHP-free IV systems.
  • Wal-Mart announced on October 24, 2005, it will phase out PVC in its private label packaging over the next two years. Environmental health advocates welcomed Wal-Mart's PVC phase out however stressed it's only a small step Wal-Mart is taking to address environmental and labor concerns.
  • Firestone Building Products Company, the world's largest manufacturer of commercial roofing, closed down their PVC line in late 2005 in favor of safer materials. This represents some six thousand tons of PVC production annually.
  • Shaw Industries Inc. ran its last production of PVC carpet backing at the beginning of 2005, replacing it with EcoWorx, a cradle-to-cradle product that can be sustainably recycled, has less embodied energy than PVC carpet tiles, and maintains equal or greater performance.
  • Johnson and Johnson announced it has set a goal to eliminate PVC in their primary packaging, and is actively engaged with suppliers to identify alternatives to replace existing PVC packaging and avoid PVC use in future products.
A New Multi-Industry Trend

These companies join the ranks of other innovators who have already moved to phase out PVC including Adidas, Aveda, Bath and Body Works, the Body Shop, Gerber, Ikea, Lego Systems, Nike, Samsung, SC Johnson, Shaw Carpet, and Victoria's Secret, among others. They are part of a broader economic trend in which US businesses are increasingly incorporating safer, sustainable materials into their operations.

"We are seeing a new trend: major corporations are phasing out PVC and switching to safer and healthier consumer products," said Brad van Guilder, Organizing Director for the Ecology Center. "We applaud Microsoft and other innovative companies who recognize that safeguarding our health is not only the right thing to do, but also makes good business sense. Consumers need to support companies that have demonstrated commitments to safer products. Parents should remember the adage 'bad news comes in threes,' and avoid buying PVC products which are marked with a "3" or "v" in the recycle symbol this holiday season."

The Ecology Center has joined a coalition of 60 organizations coordinated by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) that work with these companies to convince them to eliminate PVC packaging or products voluntarily, thereby helping build markets for safer substitutes. Health Care Without Harm works with healthcare institutions to promote safer substitutes to products such as PVC plastic in health care. The Healthy Building Network is leading the campaign to accelerate the transition away from PVC building materials in favor of safer, healthier alternatives. The Clean Car Campaign works closely with the automotive industry to encourage a phase-out of PVC usage in cars and trucks.

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