March 10th, 2020 - Beth

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Simon Scholes, MD of VEKA Recycling, believes that 2020 will see most PVC-U extruders producers promoting ‘sustainable’ window systems. But, he says, the clamour to be green will also attract the wrong attention

Can you feel it? The groundswell that is the wider acceptance by the UK window and door industry that not only is the recycling of old PVC-U frames good for the industry, at long last, the inclusion of recycled material in new profiles, is also a positive. The incredibly anachronistic view that homeowners don’t want ‘second hand’ material in their new windows is at last being replaced by the concept – shock horror! – that taking the old and recycling it into something new is a good thing. And that actually, it might even sell more product. For what can be an incredibly progressive industry, this is one key area in which it has collectively dragged its heels.

A number of key players have at last decided to make sustainability one of the key tenets of their brand and they must be commended, even if they too are behind the curve of pretty much every other consumer sector; though better late than never. They are tapping into the mindsets of homeowners increasingly swayed by the constant stream of information coming through every information channel, about the need for all of us to reduce our impact on the planet. And before you roll your eyes at yet another sermon, this will put money in the pockets of anyone involved with PVC-U windows and doors…

How? There are two strings to how sustainability makes commercial sense for the PVC-U framing industry: The recovery of old PVCU frames and recycling them to be remanufactured into brand new products; and the inclusion of reprocessed polymer from old windows, in brand new profiles. The first is known and understood by most if for no other reason than it makes financial sense to have old frames collected rather than pay for them to be skipped off to landfill.

The second of these still requires wider acceptance by the industry – although not, I maintain, by Mr and Mrs Homeowner – that profiles extruded using recycled material will perform at least as well as those produced using only virgin polymer. I am astonished to hear the view (though less so these days) from some fabricators and installers, that somehow profiles containing ‘second hand’ material is inferior.

Despite this residual negativity I firmly believe that 2020 will see most of the remaining PVC-U systems brands beginning to support the excellent sustainability credentials of the material, bringing us into the 21st Century and in-line with consumer demands. Crucially, the industry moving together will have the effect, long overdue, of distancing PVC-U from single use plastics and other materials, the images of which are causing widespread concern at the validity of plastic generally.

However, whilst as a seasoned campaigner for PVC-U recycling I am delighted that I can now see wholesale movement towards the treatment of used PVC-U as a valuable commodity instead of something to simply be discarded, we do face a number of potential stumbling blocks along the way. And not least of these is the potential for rogue waste contractors to derail us.

By law, the responsibility for old PVC-U frames does not end the minute they are collected by the disposal contractor. Under the Environmental Protection Act of 1990 everyone in the chain from installer through to final disposal has a duty of care to ensure that waste is collected, processed and disposed of according to a number of strict rules. A code of practice applies throughout the chain and failure to comply can result in fines that have no upper limit. In other words, installers removing old PVC-U frames must have proof that they will be processed and disposed of responsibly or may find themselves facing the full power of the courts.

Crucially, as our industry finally becomes sustainable in the recycling and re-use of PVC-U frames, with the increased volumes also comes the potential for abuse by rogue traders. So whilst we must take pride in the fact that our industry is enhancing its green credentials, we must be sure that with it does not come before a great fall.

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