Jul 25, 2023

Vinyl Institute: Recycled PVC has a role in infrastructure projects

About 70 percent of PVC goes to building and construction uses such as pipes, cables, siding, window and door profiles, flooring, fencing, decking and roofing.

The low-cost, easy-to-install products also can be recycled up to eight times without losing their durability to make more building products.

However, a new federal government report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that highlights potential uses for recycled plastic in infrastructure focuses on PET, high and low density polyethylene and polypropylene as having the most potential to use in infrastructure.

The report points to the four grades of plastics as having conducive properties for infrastructure like suitable melting point and service temperature ranges, chemical resistance and strength.

PVC products offers similar qualities as well as water resistance, ease of maintenance and a service life up to 100 years for some applications like pipes, according to the Vinyl Institute, a Washington-based trade group representing manufacturers of vinyl, vinyl chloride monomer and vinyl additives and modifiers.

"Not including PVC is a missed opportunity. Post-consumer recycled PVC is already being used successfully in drain, waste and vent piping," Susan Wade, vice president of marketing and communication, said in an email.

"Most PVC applications, like PVC pipe, are still in their use phase so that impacts the amount of available post-consumer PVC available to be recycled. But there is a groundswell of activity to increase the volume of post-consumer recycled PVC."

A NASEM report chart says PVC has potential to be recycled into pipes, garden hoses, mud flaps and orange construction zones but points to a challenge: Toxic materials can be released during processing.

Also, a section about using PVC in roads raises concerns over generating chlorine gases and dioxins in asphalt production and in recycling.

"There's concerns about recycling PVC from a number of respects and air emissions are right up there," Carnegie Mellon University professor David Dzombak has said. "That really holds it back as a recycled material."

Vinyl Institute officials contend the industry has decreased ambient emissions to air and water by almost 90 percent during the last 30 years — a time period in which production volume has doubled.

Vinyl advocates also say it appears the committee that wrote the NASEM report wasn't aware that post-consumer recycled PVC is being used effectively in infrastructure, especially beyond transportation infrastructure.

For example, companies are collecting recycled PVC and making seawalls that protect coastlines, which are long-lasting and don't corrode or erode as quickly as other materials.

Also, the vinyl roofing industry has been successfully recycling post-consumer vinyl roofs back into roofing systems for more than 20 years.

Another infrastructure application for post-consumer roof material is geomembranes, which are used in retention ponds, canals, dams and reservoirs to protect groundwater.

Meanwhile, the University of Massachusetts Lowell and UMass-Amherst campuses are collaborating on research about using post-consumer PVC as an additive to cement and other inorganic materials to create sustainable, hybrid cementitious composites.

The NASEM report also lumps PVC with polystyrene as "hard-to-recycle materials" with recyclable defined as having successful post-consumer collection, sorting and recycling into a specification-grade commodity that has an end market.

The Vinyl Institute is working on collection and recycling programs. The group's goal is to increase the amount of post-consumer recycled PVC to 160 million pounds per year by the end of 2025. VI members are providing $3 million in seed funding for PVC recycling projects over the next three years to make this happen.

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