Anti-PVC movement grows, even as PVC use rises

A growing coalition of scientists, public-health advocates, environmentalists, and even corporations is fighting to rid the world of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Some 300 billion pounds of PVC are in use worldwide, and 7 billion pounds are discarded each year in the U.S. alone, says the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice. Recycling PVC is difficult and labor-intensive; most plastic recyclers consider it contamination. In landfills, it leaches lead, cadmium, and phthalates into groundwater. Incinerating it releases the poison dioxin into the air. It is “one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials ever produced,” according to Joe Thornton, biology professor at the University of Oregon. The Vinyl Institute, a disinterested group of, uh, PVC makers, denies such claims: “you can recycle, landfill, and incinerate it safely and effectively,” says spokesflack Allen Blakely. Despite the institute’s reassurances, an increasing number of companies, including Victoria’s Secret, Nike, Mattel, General Motors, and Microsoft, have pledged to phase PVC out of their operations.