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Window of opportunity

The volume of PVC that is recycled in the UK has gone up more than six-fold in the past five years, according to the latest figures from Recovinyl, the PVC recycling scheme, which offers incentives to companies to collect and recycle post-consumer PVC. The initiative is part of Vinyl 2010, a commitment by the European PVC sector to become more sustainable.

Recovinyl in the UK is led by Bramhall-based Axion Consulting. Project manager Jane Gardner tells MRW: “The project has by far exceeded expectations - the amount recovered the first year [2005] was around 8,000 tonnes and is now around 50,000 tonnes. This really has been a phenomenal UK success story and is something we are very proud of.”

She adds that the UK has also performed well against its European counterparts, contributing to around 20% of the overall amount of PVC recycled by Recovinyl members across Europe.

“At the moment there is enough processing capacity [in the UK]. But as the amount of material increases, the key will be having more outlets and infrastructure” - Jane Gardner, Axion Consulting

Vinyl 2010’s aim was to recycle 240,000 tonnes of post-consumer PVC a year across Europe by 2010 - excluding waste streams subject to legislation such as electronics waste and end-of-life vehicles. It has managed to exceed this, recycling around 255,000 tonnes in 2010. A follow-up project setting further targets is due to be announced at the PVC 2011 conference taking place in Brighton on 22-24 April.

While the overall trend in collection and recycling from 2005 to 2010 has been upward, there was a fall in the amount of PVC recycled in 2009, which coincides with the recession and the dive in the construction sector. Most of the post-consumer PVC waste stream is made up of window frames, as first-generation PVC windows reach the end of their lives, and pipes.

“At the moment there is enough processing capacity [in the UK]. But as the amount of material increases, the key will be having more outlets and infrastructure,” Gardner says.

“The properties of recycled PVC are the same - it doesn’t lose any of its natural properties” - Carl Stokes, Eagley Plastics

She would like to see more end uses for PVC-U being developed, and part of the solution is convincing converters that PVC-U is a material they want to use, in order to boost demand. To help with this, Recovinyl plans to run a series of workshops, where converters tell others about the properties of recycled PVC, helping to dispel any myths and encouraging others to use the recycled material in their applications.

Eagley Plastics is a technical trade extrusion company and one of the largest independent PVC-U extruders in the UK. It has introduced a range of building products manufactured from pre- and post-consumer waste PVC-U, from cladding and eaves protectors to rainwater goods. Operations director Carl Stokes estimates that around a third of the company’s feedstock is Recycled, and says he can only see demand for recycled PVC-U increasing, as sustainability becomes increasingly important and the price compares favourably with virgin or ‘prime’ material.

“More and more customers are now asking for sustainable products,” he explains. “The properties of recycled PVC are the same - it doesn’t lose any of its natural properties, so you can use it three to four times in the extrusion life cycle.” He adds that the price for PVC-U has increased by around 40% in the past year and demand has increased too.

One company that supplies Eagley Plastics with its PVC-U is Manchester-based Recovinyl member PVC Recycling. PVC Recycling only takes in post-consumer PVC - around 400 tonnes of waste window frames a month - and reprocesses them into a raw material that can be re-extruded. Being a Recovinyl member, it receives subsidies for taking the material in, although these have been designed to be phased out over time as the sector and the markets establish themselves.

PVC Recycling’s material mainly comes in via skip hire companies and waste transfer stations. Managing director Ian Murray says the business has developed significantly during the 10 years it has been operating. In the beginning it took in PVC waste for free, which resulted in poor quality material coming in. But over time, and with a price to pay, the quality of material coming in has improved.

Murray says the markets for PVC-U are buoyant, with prices rising. This is a reflection of the rising price of virgin material, connected to the rising price of oil. Murray explains that prime PVC costs around £1,150/tonne, virgin pre-consumer material is around £550/tonne and post-consumer PVC is around £450-£475/tonne. So the price of recycled PVC fares well against pre-consumer and virgin material.

“It’s a disgrace that after all the money and efficiency that has gone into PVC recycling, our biggest competitor is still landfill” - Ian Murray, PVC Recycling

He argues that post-consumer PVC is actually a better quality material than the virgin PVC made today because material that was produced in the past was of a higher specification.

Murray is confident about the future of his business, anticipating a catch-up on building work that slowed during the recession. But he explains that because PVC is a light material, it is still easier for companies to send it to landfill.

“It’s a disgrace that after all the money and efficiency that has gone into PVC recycling, our biggest competitor is still landfill. I can’t believe the Government still allows the material to go to landfill, when countries such as Germany have banned it. We would call for it to be banned from landfill,” he says.

But Murray is optimistic the PVC recycling sector will carry on developing. The company has just invested in equipment that will further purify the post-consumer regrind material so that a pellet can be produced that directly compares with prime pellets - but will be cheaper. It is currently at trial stage, but should be operational by the end of March.

CASE STUDY

How Liverpool-based window recycler Elixir Foundations has boosted production rates
Elixir Foundations is a window recycling and garden and property maintenance social enterprise. Operating in Liverpool since 2008, it employs and trains deprived individuals.

The PVC-U recycling division of the business processes waste window frames and doors to be refined into granules and fine powders. These are manufactured into new windows, doors and other plastic products. Waste PVC-U is collected from partners such as skip companies, housing associations and local authorities across Merseyside, the north-west and Yorkshire.

Until recently this was processed by hand at Elixir’s depot in Kirkby, but the PVC-U frames are now broken down using a custom shredder provided by Meltog. This is expected to more than triple production rates to 3,500 tonnes this year. The shredder breaks the PVC-U into manageable sections so that technicians at the site can strip them of rubber and other materials for despatch to be granulated.

SUSTAINABILITY

Profile 22, part of the Epwin Group, has just become the first and only PVC-U window systems company to secure a dedicated A+ rating across all domestic applications for its low-carbon recycled window system RECO22. The system features profile extruded from 100% recycled PVC-U with a thin foiled colour or wood grain finish added to ensure colour uniformity and deliver an enhanced aesthetic.

The window systems won a National Recycling Award in 2009 for Best Recycled Product, and were recently on display at the Ecobuild exhibition, being pitched as the new generation of low- carbon PVC-U windows for house builders, social housing providers and specifiers.

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