Canadian Plastics

Anti-PVC campaign could easily turn into anti-plastic crusade

With its most recent attack on PVC, this time over the supposed harmful leaching of phthalates used for decades in medical bags and tubing made of PVC, Greenpeace is once again up to its old tricks of...

April 1, 1999   By Michael LeGault, editor



With its most recent attack on PVC, this time over the supposed harmful leaching of phthalates used for decades in medical bags and tubing made of PVC, Greenpeace is once again up to its old tricks of creating fear in order to achieve its objective of eliminating vinyl from the marketplace. Once again the environmental group’s anti-PVC campaign is getting significant coverage in the media and once again vinyl industry officials are on the defensive and scrambling to “manage” the issue. Once again, when all has been said, the public is left with this one central fact: If you chose to believe that either the phthalates in vinyl, or vinyl itself, are harmful to human health, you do so without support of any scientific evidence for your belief.

The scary thing about the Greenpeace anti-PVC campaign is that it can apparently be conducted with an aura of legitimacy, grabbing headlines, causing industry to consider alternative materials, without proof that PVC is harmful. Instead, by manipulating public perception, it has shifted the burden onto the shoulders of industry to prove that vinyl isn’t harmful.

This is a dangerous precedent, not only for PVC, but for industry and law-based society as a whole because proving a negative is a slippery if not impossible task. I can’t show that I do not have bad intentions; I can show that I have good intentions. If the reverse-onus logic of Greenpeace prevails, how many more products could be banned until they are proven not to be hazardous?

For this reason alone, the Greenpeace campaign against vinyl is not just a concern for producers and users of vinyl, but a concern for all of the plastics industry. Today it is vinyl under attack, tomorrow it could be polypropylene or nylon. Sound far-fetched? Why should it be? Manufacturers of polypropylene, like manufacturers of vinyl, have reams of evidence demonstrating the material is safe for humans to use. As this evidence has not prevented vinyl from coming under attack, why should we expect similar evidence to work in the favor of other resins?

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Exactly how, as a society, we’ve reached a point where a group or an individual can use a conjured perception, not concrete evidence, to create a self-serving view of reality is itself a topic worthy of a thesis. As the late Carl Sagan pointed out in his book, The Demon-haunted World, despite living in a highly technological and science-based era, most people still have very little contact or interest in science. Sagan notes, for example, that the number of people who report believing in such things as crystal power, ghosts and psychic healing is growing.

In such a society, feelings assume much more importance than objectivity or rational thought. Creativity, innovation, educational standards, performance and accountability are secondary in importance to the task of inventing political and social agendas which validate a group’s view about how the world should be. A case in point is the recent decision by an Ottawa woman to suit the government because she borrowed $60,000 in student loans and must re-pay the amount, without recourse to personal bankruptcy. The same victimology, the same ‘If I say so, it must be right’ mentality pervades Greenpeace’s unceasing efforts to bring down vinyl.

The root cause of this mentality has causes and consequences far beyond the realm of the plastics industry.

Voting is perhaps the most effective way to change things. Attending your child’s next parent-teacher conference can’t hurt either.

e-mail: mlegault@southam.ca


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