Volume 13, Issue 8 - October 2012

Eye on Energy

PVC Reborn
Second-Generation Vinyl Gets New Life

Look around the room. Observe the number of products in your immediate vicinity that are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). From the bottle of water on your desk to the clock in the corner, vinyl is everywhere.

Relatively stable material costs, versatility and inherent durability have made vinyl an ideal choice for a myriad of applications.

No one can argue the impact vinyl has had on the window industry. In terms of energy efficiency, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates a $125 to $340 annual savings in energy bills when single-pane windows are replaced with Energy Star-rated vinyl windows. Durability also contributes to vinyl’s popularity because the longer a window lasts, less energy and fewer resources are needed to make and install replacement products.

Since it hit the market in the early 1980s, vinyl has continued to evolve to make it a safer, cleaner and more environmentally friendly material. That trend continues with a wave of advocates who are leading an effort to act responsibly by more effectively reusing recycled vinyl in second-generation products.

European Initiatives
In 2000, the European PVC industry launched Vinyl 2010, a voluntary initiative created to stimulate recycling of vinyl waste by continually improving processes and products and investing in new technologies. While participation in the group’s initiatives is not mandatory by law, it is strongly encouraged. One of the program’s goals was to recycle 200,000 tons of vinyl annually. With participation even greater than expected, Vinyl 2010 surpassed its goal by more than 60,000 tons. More than 100,000 tons of vinyl recycled in 2010 came from window profiles and related products.1

Since 2010, the European PVC industry has embarked on a second ten-year initiative called VinylPlus that builds on the achievements of Vinyl 2010. This new initiative aims to increase PVC recycling to 800,000 tons per year and to develop and exploit new technologies to recycle 100,000 tons per year of “difficult-to-recycle PVC.”

Progress Stateside
Similar vinyl recycling advocacy programs exist in the U.S. and are gaining traction as more companies and consumers are striving to live responsibly when it comes to the environment. We are recycling more of our production outfall and are looking for ways to create more ecologically sensitive vinyl window profile technologies that are more ecologically sensitive.

Historically, the general market consensus has been that using post-industrial, recycled PVC in new products does not yield a profile with the highest visual aesthetic quality. Thanks to technologies developed in Europe over the past ten years, that is no longer the case.

This process begins with a thorough review of the recycled sources to identify any impurities. The vinyl profiles go through a number of analyses to ensure chemical and mechanical compatibility. Examples of chemicals checked include lead, calcium, titanium and tin.

Once the recycling source is certified to meet specific chemical and physical properties, material then can be processed, color-stabilized for aesthetics, and then specially extruded into the non-visible facets of the frame profile. The visible portion of the window frame utilizes first-generation vinyl compound to ensure premium weathering performance.

Doing Your Part
Use of post-industrial recycled vinyl in second-generation products is poised for growth. According to The Vinyl Institute, recycled vinyl has proven so viable that its price is indexed in leading plastic industry publications. As producers and consumers of PVC products, we have a responsibility to recycle whenever possible and to develop new and innovative ways to develop more ecologically sensitive products.

End Notes: 1. Vinyl 2010, retrieved from http://www.vinyl2010.org, August 2012

Jeff York is vice president of process innovation at Quanex Building Products.


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