The Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance’s (FGIA) Summer Conference took place this week in Vancouver, B.C., where numerous sessions raised the alarm for initiatives that have the potential to impact door and window manufacturers. A renewed focus on reducing global plastics pollution in the U.S. and abroad could carry ramifications for PVC products.

In a vinyl material forum, Aine Curran, president and CEO of Vinyl Institute (VI) Canada, spoke about a Canada-wide “Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste.” Five years ago, Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments adopted the strategy, which takes a lifecycle approach to evaluating plastics, Curran said, also instating a nationwide action plan. As VI Canada seeks to have greater input into the program, “They seem to have all of the power right now, and that’s become a big part of our challenge,” she said.

Following Curran’s presentation, her U.S. counterpart, Ned Monroe, president and CEO of VI U.S., alerted attendees to a separate program developed by the United Nations with the potential to impact vinyl window manufacturers.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) seeks to implement a legally binding, global climate agreement on plastics pollution by 2024, Monroe said, keying in on two possible approaches: one that tackles the issue via pollution reductions and another that focuses on production. Among the measures currently under discussion are bans on certain polymers, ingredients and products, including PVC and polystyrene.

The U.S. also has a number of programs in development that focus on plastics pollution, but is aiming for a national plan, on the premise that a global approach will not work in some locations. At the same time, a cohort of nearly 160 countries, including the European Union, suggests that a global plan is necessary. A resulting “high ambition plan” for global programs is pressing for a scope that includes “not just plastics packaging, but all plastics,” Monroe said.

“Some high-ranking government officials truly believe that we can live in a world without plastics,” said Kathy Krafka Harkema, U.S. technical operations director for FGIA, in a separate session. “This is a high ambition coalition that is focused on their objectives and in some cases that means either placing restrictions on the manufacture of plastics, or prohibitions or reductions of them. And that could include PVC,” she warned.

Kathy Krafka Harkema, U.S. technical operations director for FGIA, warned attendees that new efforts by the United Nations to ban the use of certain plastics could impact door and window manufacturers.

As the agreement is currently written, it includes a “very broad scope for all polymers—all plastics,” Krafka Harkema said.

At this point, it’s unknown what the final scope will include. “It might not include durables or windows and doors … but if they start to include a broad scope, with rigid products,” PVC used in doors and windows could be a target, Monroe said. For this reason, he urged interest and involvement by FGIA members, while encouraging them to sign up for a supply chain verification program. VI is also offering $3 million in recycling grants to help meet post-consumer recycling goals, which it’s offering to organizations. Currently, FGIA is undergoing a viability study for application toward a $100,000 grant, officials said. FGIA is working with VI Canada and VI U.S., “because this is a very serious issue that could impact all of our businesses,” Krafka Harkema told attendees.

“If we all work together, we’re all going to be okay in this U.N. treaty, but we have to take it seriously, because there are so many people who are undereducated about the quality of products we have,” Monroe said.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., President Biden signed an executive order on April 21, 2023, aimed at “Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All,” including a policy the administration says is designed to pursue a whole-government approach to environmental justice.

“This lengthy executive order contains a few things that we want to call to your attention,” Krafka Harkema said. The order creates an inter-agency policy committee on plastics pollutions, she said, as well as a circular economy.

While the concept of a circular economy used to focus on recycling, it now looks at the full life cycle of a product, including the materials involved and what happens to them after a product is used. As part of the executive order, a national strategy has been drafted focusing on preventing plastics pollutions.

“A lot of this started with a focus on protecting the oceans,” she said. “That’s admirable—keeping plastics out of our waterways. But it’s really ballooned from there.”

Among the strategies FGIA seeks to call to the attention of its members is the notion for “How do we design our products to use fewer plastics?” Krafka Harkema said. “How do we start to think about product design so there’s less waste? How do we reduce the use of unrecyclable plastics? And then how do we minimize that pollution across the whole spectrum and lifecycle of products?”

UNEP is preparing a zero draft of its international agreement ahead of a session due to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, in November 2023. VIC is organizing a delegation to attend the event. The draft will be negotiated over the next year, Monroe said, with a finalized version expected in 2025 for country ratification.

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