Features

RECYCLING PVC-U: NO MORE STEPTOE & SON

November 8th, 2021 - Beth

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With big brands spending millions on processing plants and sophisticated collection networks, PVC-U recycling has become a respected and highly professional industry. Almost, says VEKA Recycling’s Simon Scholes.

The collection of ‘end-of-life’ PVC-U window and door frames – the gentrified term for what used simply to be called ‘scrap’ – has become a professional, and well managed sub sector of the home improvement industry. In little more than a decade we – and I hope my contemporaries will excuse me for appointing myself as the industry spokesperson on this occasion – the larger brands, including my own VEKA Recycling – have collectively moved the game on from what was little more than a specialised section of the rag ‘n’ bone industry. When collections were made, it was often by a ragtag collection of scruffy vehicles, operated by a dodgy driver and with the old PVC-U profiles being carted off to uncertain destination destinations.

Thankfully all that is in the past. Well almost…

Heightened by last year’s industry meltdown when some well-known brands declared ‘force majeure’ following the outages at key PVC-U resin processing plants, there is now a broad acceptance that end-of-life PVC-U profiles are a valuable commodity. The messages that we and our contemporaries have been repeating ad nauseum, are becoming reality, even though it is more the shortages that have brought this home, rather than our sermonising.

But we are getting there, with most of the big brands now committed to the inclusion of recycled PVC-U in their mainstream profiles, rather than a hybrid ‘eco’ sub brand produced to tick a box. The promotion of recycled content is becoming the norm by the systems companies, although fabricators and, more importantly, installers, have yet to pick up the sustainability baton as a sales tool, which continues to leave me baffled. Nonetheless, we now seem to be in full flow, hinting at that sustainability nirvana in which old windows are removed and immediately recycled into brand new ones, in a continuous cycle.

Demand for old windows and doors, the source material for operations such as our shiny new plant in Wellingborough, has never been so high. And whilst our industry is very effective at putting old frames back into the system, we estimate that around 20% of PVC-U frames removed from a property, disappear without trace. We must address this issue and we must do so quickly. And for that we need the full engagement of every installer of PVC-U windows, doors and related products.

As an industry we still must ensure that every shred of PVC-U window or door removed from a building, reaches our factory or those of our competitors. Not a gram should ‘leak’ from the system, to find its way into landfill or dumped illegally in a field or abandoned in a warehouse. And that especially includes the material that is not so easy to re-process such as gaskets, that still have to be dealt with correctly despite their limited value. We need the commitment of installers everywhere, simply to ensure that old frames are pointed towards a recycler; but crucially to ensure that the collection company is licensed and can prove that the frames will be processed according to an audited trail. We need very little more than that.

There are no downsides to recycling PVC-U frames, nor to ensuring that they are collected and recycled traceably. In fact, homeowners are more likely to buy from a company that can prove that their old windows will be re-manufactured into something new, just a few weeks after they have been removed.

Installers are the last link in this chain. We need to ensure that every PVC-U frame that has been removed, finds its way through an audited system back to a bona fide recycler. There are several schemes around to collect this material, and whilst we all have arrangements with skip hire firms, there is some leakage through that world. Returning old frames through established, direct channels is therefore more certain, and preferable.

We are so close to creating a perfect recycling regime, something that as an industry we can be proud of. We just need that final push to get there.

 

ISSUE: OCTOBER 2021

 


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