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The Wall Street Journal

Microsoft Is Curbing Use Of PVC, a Popular Plastic

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By THADDEUS HERRICK
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL December 7, 2005; Page D7

Microsoft Corp. is curbing its use of a popular plastic known as PVC amid growing health and environmental concerns.

The software giant is the latest company to distance itself from polyvinyl chloride, or vinyl, which critics say poses dangers throughout its life cycle. Others to move away from PVC include Hewlett-Packard Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and health-care provider Kaiser Permanente, according to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. The Falls Church, Va., advocacy group is expected to announce Microsoft's action today.

Microsoft, which long used PVC packaging for products, said it will have completed its phaseout of the material by the end of 2005. That move has resulted in the elimination of 361,000 pounds of vinyl since July 2005, the company said. PVC is used in the clamshell casing for some computer products.

Micosoft said cardboard will suffice as a replacement in most cases but that the company will also use PET, a polyethylene plastic used in food packaging such as soft-drink bottles that can be recycled into carpet and fleece clothing.

"We should do what's in our control to do," said Pamela Passman, vice president of global corporate affairs for Microsoft.

As much as 16 billion pounds of vinyl are produced annually in North America, according to the Vinyl Institute, an Arlington, Va., industry group. The Vinyl Institute says the material is among the nation's largest-selling plastics, with more than $6 billion in resin sales.

Health and environmental advocates say PVC poses a threat because when produced or burned it releases dioxins, chemicals that potentially cause cancer in humans. Plasticizers in PVC known as phthalates also are opposed by critics concerned that they may cause reproductive disorders in humans. Plasticizers are needed to make brittle plastic soft and pliable.

The Vinyl Institute responds that the industry's emissions of dioxins are a tiny fraction of the total dioxin emissions in the U.S. The group also cites EPA data that show overall emissions of dioxins in the U.S.
declining by 80% between 1987 and 1995.

Vinyl makers also say phthalates have been safely used as plasticizers for more than 50 years, and are among the most studied compounds in the U.S.

Write to Thaddeus Herrick at thaddeus.herrick@wsj.com

   
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