One of the longest ever cases in the history of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) concluded in favour of the PVC industry today. Specific complaints were made by the British Plastics Federation (BPF) and the Packaging and Industrial Films Association (PIFA), amid concerns about the rnisrepresentation of PVC in a series of advertisernents which promoted the launch of a joint Co-operative Bank and Greenpeace "bio-degradable" credit card.

Having considered independent expert advice from organisations such as the Environment Agency, the US Environmental Protection Agency and MAFF, the ASA concluded that the advertisers had "denigrated PVC" in an attempt to promote their own product.

The UK plastics industry is delighted by the ASA ruling which also criticises the "Shocking language" used in the advertisement, judged to be "likely to cause undue alarm". Philip Law (BPF Public and Industrial Affairs Director) said, "As we have already seen many times before, when the allegations against PVC made by extreme environmental campaigners are subjected to independent scrutiny, the flaws and misleading nature of their arguments are exposed".

Law went on to say, "We welcome the ASA's independent assessment of these advertisements which we always felt to be inflammatory scaremongering, specifically designed to rnanipulate emotions". The ASA's adjudication contained a heavy focus on PVC and dioxins [1]. The ASA rejected the advertiser's, suggestion of a causal link between the PVC industry and claims of falling human sperm counts via dioxins. The ASA also criticised the advertisers for giving the impression that the PVC industry was a significant source of environmental dioxins.

Citing nurnerous independent Sources [2], the ASA concluded that neither the production nor incineration of PVC contributed significantfy to levels of dioxins found in the environment.

On the basis of this evidence, the ASA further concluded that, "the advertisements were likely to cause undue alarm" and they asked Greenpeace and the Co-operative Bank to "not use shocking language to attract attention to their products".

Jim Pugh, Chief Executive of PIFA, welcomed the ASA adjudication as a fair and objective rebuttal of the totally unfounded anti-PVC arguments used in the advertisements and expressed incredulity that Co- operative Bank credit card had received Millenniurn Award status from the Design Council. "There were major questions" he said "over the availability and cost of the new material, the environmental case for promoting degradability over other waste management options, and the dubious way in which the card was promoted"

Mertin Cairns (Press contact for BPF)
Tel: 020 7457 5043
Fax: 020 7457 5045

Peter Woodall (Press contact for PIFA)
Tel: 0115 958 0403
Fax: 0115 948 3098
Out of hours tel: 077 68 66 4418


[1] The term "dioxin" is commonly used to refer to a family of compounds comprising around 75 dioxins and 135 related furans. About 17 of them are recognised as being highly toxic. Dioxins can be produced both naturally during volcanic eruptions, forest fires and decomposition, and as a result of a number ot human activities. They are produced when any mixture containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and chlorine is burned and the gases produced are allowed to cool slowly.

[2] Specifically, in its adjudication, the ASA referred to Environment Agency and US Environmental Protection Agency studies and noted that levels of Environmental dioxins were declining despite the increase of PVC production over recent decades. The UK Environment Agency confirmed that operating conditions were the key to determining dioxin emissions during ihe incineration of wastes.

[3] In May 1997, a joint Greenpeace / Co-operative Bank credit card was launched using a series of national press advertisements. The advertisements promoted the affiliation credit card as "99.9% PVC-free", and, instead of supporting any environmental benefits of the new raw material, the advertising copy made claims such as "PVC is the mother of plastic pollutants" and suggested that PVC may be linked to a "dramatic drop in human sperrn counts". Such allegations are part of a campaign aimed at discrediting the chlorine industry in general and PVC in particular, The ASA, in its most recent decision, criticised the use of such "unjustified' slogans.

In response to these advertisements, the PVC industry, under the auspicion of the British Plastics Federation (SPF), the Packaging and Industrial Films Association PIFA), with support from the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM) immediately placed their own advertisernents to reassure the public, following the claims and allegations against PVC in the Greenpeace / Co-operative Bank advertisements. In November 1998, the ASA published its adjudication on the industry's advertisements following complaints concerning some of the statements made in defence of PVC. The ASA, having again consulted extensively with independent experts, concluded that the rnajority of the claims rnade by the industry in its defence were acceptable. The ASA upheld only one of the six complaints, which related to the nature of the scientific debate on a particular plasticiser (which in any event is not needed to make PVC credit cards).

PVC is one of the most versatile and widely used plastics. It is manufactured from oil (43%) and salt (57%) under controlled conditions using a safe and well understood industrial process. PVC is also safe to use and to dispose of, and it is a socially valuable material with invaluable applications in a range of sectors including healthcare, construction, electrical and transport.


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Created: December 8, 1999.
Last update: July 16, 2000.

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