The Vinyl Institute (VI) announced a second year of post-consumer PVC recycling grants last week. Officials say the program is dedicated to advancing recycling practices nationwide, including among door and window companies. VI has dedicated $1 million per year to help grow PVC recycling programs for post-consumer materials. For doors and windows, officials are eying the possibility of programs that utilize distributors as gathering points for used materials.

At a time when more than 170 countries weigh a legally binding, global climate agreement on plastics pollution, VI’s program represents an alternate vision for how PVC products can be used responsibly and kept out of the environment, says Ned Monroe, president and CEO of VI. The “high ambition” coalition behind the United Nations (UN) Environmental Program is approaching the issue through a broad scope, including the possibility for bans and restrictions, Monroe says. Among the materials currently under discussion are certain polymers, ingredients and products, including PVC and polystyrene.

“The purpose of [such an agreement is] to see if there can be some agreement to solve the problem of plastic waste getting into the marine environment,” he says. “The question then becomes how do you handle that?”

So far as the door and window industry is concerned, a system of recycling could use door and window distributors as drop off and collection points for products removed in remodeling, Monroe suggests. Dealers and contractors could drop materials for recycling, while also dodging fees for waste disposal, he says.

“We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to find somebody who will take back the entire door or window, and then can do the separation of glass and gaskets and aluminum at the facility, capturing the high-quality PVC that’s in there,” he says.
The biggest obstacle includes logistics.

“How do you transport from the jobsite or the construction and demolition landfill?” he asks. “How do you separate it? How do you then get it to the recycler? Who then gets to recycle it so a company can put it back into a quality product?” To answer those questions, “We look at the volume potential,” Monroe says. “We look at the geographic location of the recyclers. We look at the collection process, because you have to have a certain volume coming in. You have to have a recycler who wants to take it and then you have to have somebody who’s willing to buy the recycled content after it comes out.”

A distributor-based system has been successful in Northeast Ohio and is currently expanding, he says. A similar system is also employed by door and window manufacturer Veka in Europe.

Regarding a legally binding, global climate agreement, while the intent is good, any discussion of bans ignores the role of plastics in society, Monroe suggests.

“The vinyl industry does not support littering,” he says. “Our number one priority is to keep polymers and PVC in use. It’s a high, valuable commodity, with a lot of uses. It can be recycled up to eight times. And nobody wants to have litter in creeks or in the streams. We see the pictures of plastic waste in the ocean, and we’re just as upset as everybody. The question is, how do you solve those problems? There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Among the critical uses for plastics, Monroe cites bags made from PVC, which help to preserve blood for 42 days. Another example includes PVC pipes, which are used to transport tap water.

“If Europe tries to push bans of PVC or polymers, that ban hurts developing countries,” he says. “And so, the inequities that are created on these broad base, very broad attempts are really misguided or hurting people that probably need help the most.”

One of the coalition’s current focuses includes transport.

There have been instances in which shipping containers transporting plastic nurdles (small plastic pellets used to manufacture materials and products) have caught fire, leading to large spills. To avert such disasters, the UN-led coalition is weighing how it might restrict production of polymers and raw ingredients, Monroe says. At the same time, “One of the ways you can also restrict and limit plastics is by making it more difficult to ship things from country to country,” he warns.

Resin-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the U.S., aren’t as interested in limiting upstream solutions, Monroe suggests, instead promoting a much narrower scope of actions.

“If I was an executive in the door and window market, I would be a little nervous about what’s happening in other countries,” Monroe says. “I think the U.S. government recognizes that there is no way they could support a ban on PVC … so I think we’re okay here. But if I had a business, in, for example, Sweden or Norway or the European Union, I would be a little nervous, because those individual countries might decide to go another direction.”

In lieu of targeting production and transport, among the approaches that VI would support is the concept for ingredient transparency, Monroe says.

“As you know, most of the ingredients that are used in PVC doors and windows—there aren’t that many, and they’re very highly restricted,” he says. “And the range of formulas for doors and windows are relatively well known. There aren’t that many and most people understand the chemicals and the substances that are used. And so ingredient transparency for us isn’t all that complicated.”

In the meantime, VI officials are urging door and window companies to “talk to their governments,” Monroe says. “They should be talking about the quality of products—the quality of doors and windows, and energy efficiency. You know, products that are durable, long lasting, and that aren’t going into landfills and aren’t single use.”

Applications for VI’s recycling grants are due February 9, 2024.

[This article was updated Jan. 22, 2023 at 4:02 p.m.]

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