By Jay Thomas
Recycling in the PVC industry is not new, but recent volume growth demonstrates the interest in keeping the polymer in use and out of landfills. In the U.S. and Canada alone, more than 1.1 billion pounds of vinyl is recycled annually, a 17% increase over 2019. Just under a billion pounds is attributable to pre-consumer material, with the remainder post-consumer.
Through the Vinyl Sustainability Council (VSC), a sustainability initiative of the Vinyl Institute (VI), the industry is charting a course to continuously increase the PVC recycling rates over time. Through a strategy of collaboration and investment, the industry has set a goal to grow post-consumer recycled volume to 160 million pounds by 2025.
VIABILITY, a grant program from the VI and VSC, is designed to help fund innovative research and programs to increase the industry’s post-consumer recycling efforts. Thanks to generous contributions from the four vinyl resin manufacturers (Oxy, Westlake, Formosa, and Shintech), the VI will award up to $3 million over three years. The goal is a simple one – to help the recycling initiatives of downstream vinyl organizations by providing targeted resources to foster recycling growth.
During the first round of funding, the VI awarded $604,750 to seven organizations: Chemical Fabrics and Film Association (CFFA); Every Shelter; Kelly Green Board, LLC; Norwich Plastics and Rochester Regional Health Systems; Oregon State University; Lastique; and the Vinyl Siding Recycling Coalition. Each of these organizations are working to increase PVC recycling through a variety of programs, and the VI is proud to be able to provide them with all-important funding to help them reach their goals.
Grant funding went to various project types, including existing recycling programs that needed further investment to help accelerate the scale up of the program. For example, in 2022, CFFA recycled 19.2 million pounds of pre-consumer and 1 million pounds of post-consumer PVC roof membrane. They applied and were chosen as one of our grant recipients and will use that funding to build the program, improve logistics, expand its recycling network, educate value chain members, and develop end markets for recycled PVC material.
Other projects were selected to demonstrate proof-of-concept in a market segment. An example is Norwich Plastics and Rochester Regional Health System, who are aiming to prove the viability of a medical recycling program in the U.S. They will use the VIABILITY grant to develop the program logistics and training materials, conduct hospital personnel training, install material handling equipment at one of the Rochester Regional Health System locations, and recycle the collected materials.
In addition, several research and development projects investing in new recycling technologies were selected for funding. One example is the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University, which is researching the production of high-quality waxes from PVC by hydrothermal treatment and hydrogenation. The successful implementation of this program has the potential to address difficult-to-recycle PVC composite products.
These are only half of the accepted grants thus far – and we’ve received over a dozen further grant requests in the subsequent funding rounds. The industry is hard at work expanding existing programs, implementing new ones, and researching innovative technologies. The VI is proud to be able to assist the industry in charting the course to reduce its carbon footprint and keep PVC in use and out of the landfill.
Jay Thomas is Executive Director at the Vinyl Sustainability Council.