Phasing out PVCs in California’s Consumer Packaging to Remove Toxic Chemicals from Our Environment and Ocean2 min read

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AB 2505 will green California’s waste stream

Every year, 60,000 tons of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) resin packaging is distributed in California, polluting our bodies and environment and contaminating California’s recycling stream. The resin, made from a toxic combination of chlorine gas and petroleum products, is known by us all as the soft, shiny, smelly bags that hold bulky blankets and as the rigid, sharp clamshells and other containers that package electronics and even some food. Few of us know, however, how toxic much of this material is and the problems all PVC packaging have on California’s recycling economy.

PVC is actually threat to public health and the environment throughout its lifecycle. The production of PVC uses several toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride, that have been linked to high illness rates in and around PVC factories. PVC packaging itself often contains high levels of phthalates, a worrisome group of additives used to make it flexible.

PVC packaging also often contains high levels of toxic heavy metals—one recent study found that 61% of PVC containers tested positive for Lead or Cadmium contamination. These toxins can migrate from packaging items into the human body and environment. Recognizing these threats, the California Ocean Protection Council has called for the banning of vinyl chloride from plastic packaging by 2015.

To make matters worse, PVC is virtually non-recyclable because toxicity concerns and lack of market. In fact, PVC is actually considered a serious recycling contaminant as it is nearly indistinguishable from other, non-toxic resins such as PET that are recycled. Just 1 PVC bottle can render a batch of 1,000 PET bottles unsuitable for high-end uses, costing recyclers thousands. Indeed, the presence of PVC package limits what recyclers can accept for recycling and unnecessarily increases the amount of waste local governments must landfill.

Recently, several high-profile corporations, including Sears, Target and Wal-Mart, announced they were ending or phasing out the distribution of PVC packaging. While it is great that these chains are taking their environmental responsibility seriously, only state action can solve this problem.

That’s why my organization is sponsoring AB 2505 (Brownley), which will phase out the use of PVC resin in consumer packaging. AB 2505 targets the largest class of this resin in the residential solid stream—and the types of PVC that we come into closest contact with. The use of PVC packaging is completely unnecessary. Non-toxic and recyclable PET, HDPE, glass and other packaging types represent a cost effective alternative to the use of PVC packaging.

We as policy makers have a commitment to encouraging the use of recyclable, non-toxic disposable packaging. AB 2505 will remove one of the last barriers to that goal.

Bryan Early works for Californians Against Waste (CAW), an organization dedicated to conserving resources, preventing pollution, and protecting California’s environment through the development, promotion and implementation of waste reduction and recycling policies and programs. CAW was founded in 1978 and has been active since its inception in helping to pass landmark legislation in our state.

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