Reason to be cheerful: PVC recycling on the increase

Reason to be cheerful: PVC recycling on the increase

Don't think all plastics are bad. Certainly not recycled and recyclable plastics, which are becoming de rigeur in the eco-conscious household.

By Noah Dugall
Italian furniture company Zanotta's Lama lounge chair is made from recycled PVC

Italian furniture company Zanotta's Lama lounge chair is made from recycled PVC. VinylPlus, the European PVC industry's voluntary sustainable development programme, recycled over half a million tonnes of PVC annually since 2015, and is on track to meet the target of recycling 800,000 tonnes a year by 2020.

A lot of us remain confused about sustainability issues around plastics, with the rather, er, crude view that anything derived from the petro-chemical industry should be a no-no for the environmentally responsible consumer.

There are, though, numerous advantages to plastics - longevity and being light in weight are obvious ones -  so it's far too simplistic to say plastics are inherently bad news from an eco angle.

And the fact that many types of plastics can now be recycled puts makes them a strong contender against many so-called natural products, so it makes sense to choose products made from recycled material where possible, whether it's drainpipes or raincoats you need.

Funky colourful recycled PVC chairs by Guy Harvey Furniture for Florida's Recycled Plastic Factory.
Recyclable vinyl flooring from Armstrong
Fontessa Melissa shoes made from recycled PVC, designed by Italian designer Gaetano Pesce,
Manufacturers such as Amtico and Armstrong are recycling vinyl flooring returned to them
Moduleo vinyl flooring is fully recyclable.
Amtico uses post as well as pre consumer waste in its vinyl flooring
Tectum lampshades by Jasmina Kontic are made from recycled PVC roof panels
Recyclable limestone look vinyl flooring from Harvey Maria

PVC, or polyvinyl chloride to give it its full name, is a type of plastic we all know, and it's the third most widely produced plastic in the world after polyethylene and polypropylene. PVC, patented in 1913, is used for myriad purposes in the construction industry, and it's a firm favourite of the flooring, furniture and clothing industries too.

So it's good to hear that PVC manufacturers in Europe are are working to recycle more PVC so more products can be made from it. Vinyl flooring companies including giant Amtico, the UK's Harvey Maria and Moduleo are among those that recycle their product and have strong records on sustainability.

VinylPlus, the European PVC industry's sustainable development programme, says manufacturers have not only been recycling more but developing new technologies to deal with harder-to-treat types of PVC waste.

Since 2015 more than half a million tonnes of PVC products have been recycled each year and the EU and is on course to achieve its goal of recycling 800,000 tonnes a year by 2020. VinylPlus also says significant efforts are being made to address the ‘legacy additives’ issue related to the use of restricted chemicals in recycled PVC. Use of lead stabiliser has more than halved since 2015.

Boil this lot up so to speak and a huge array of products can emerge from the pot
PVC piping is the norm in most countries
Garden hoses are made using flexible PVC and ones made from recycled PVC are on the market

PVC joins the circular economy

Last year's recycling statistics were presented at the recent Vinyl Sustainability Forum in Istanbul. VinylPlus chairman Filipe Constant says the industry is moving 'from a model of resource consumption that follows a ‘take-make-use-throw away' linear pattern into a truly circular economy model which puts end-of-life materials back into the production stream, extending the added-value of PVC’s inherent durability and versatility.'

A number of VinylPlus task forces are looking at key areas such as: how to incorporate renewable energy and raw materials; the sustainable use of additives, and the environmental footprint of PVC production.
A VinylPlus product label concept for PVC products has been developed in collaboration with The Natural Step – an NGO providing input and guidance for the development of the VinylPlus programme – and BRE, the UK's expert certification body.
Industry drives change
Speaking at the forum, Ambassador Tomas Anker Christensen, Senior Advisor at the United Nations Office for Partnerships, praised VinylPlus for its work and research into improving sustainability. He said more industry sectors should follow suit:  'Industry has a critical role to play in accelerating change, greening the economy and driving sustainable progress around the world.'
PVC and sustainability
PVC is made from rock salt (57%) and oil (43%), and thus it contains less carbon than most major thermoplastics.
According to the results of eco-profiles published by PlasticsEurope  – the association which represents all plastic material producers – there is no significant difference in the processing energy required for PVC and the other plastics.
It is highly durable and energy efficient across a range of applications, which makes for extremely effective use of raw materials.
PVC can be recycled repeatedly up to eight times depending on the application, because the recycling process does not measurably decrease the chain length of PVC molecules. 
One significant advantage of PVC compared to other materials is the potential to change the formulation to improve the safety and eco-efficiency of the final product while maintaining the same level of technical performance.
Manufacturing window profiles with 70 per cent recycled PVC rather than all new PVC reveals savings of up to 50 per cent in energy, over 60 per cent in air emissions and more than 60 per cent in water emissions.
PVC products contribute to energy efficiency through low thermal conductivity. For examples, PVC window profiles have three times the heat insulation efficiency of aluminium profiles, increasing the energy efficiency of homes/workplaces.