Can PVC or Vinyl be recycled?

Can PVC or Vinyl be recycled?

PVC can be recycled.  We have been doing it at MGM Industries each and every day since we started extruding the material in 1999.  We started making PVC (vinyl) windows in 1985, and we purchased our material until 1999.   From 1985 until 1999, I was indoctrinated into the thought that recycled PVC was “bad PVC”.  I was told for 14 years that the only good PVC was virgin PVC.  Makes me think of the old Planet of the Apes movie in which on of the apes said: “The only good human is a dead human.” (It was a subliminal social message kin’a thing…)  Anyway, back to PVC.  I’ve also been told by people in the industry that “blue-white” PVC is regrind material 1 . This is an old wives-tale within the window industry that is absolutely false.

The point I am trying to make is that there is a lot of inaccurate information that is put out there for the public’s perusal.  Some of this misinformation is put out by biased special interest groups, and some of it is put out by the users of the material in the fenestration industry.  I am going to try to give you some solid information for you to consider. And then you can make up your own mind.  Before I go further, you will have to read “What is PVC made of?”.  I’ll wait on ya’….processing, processing…

Are you back,  boring stuff wasn’t it.  But you have to know what is in the material before you can assess whether or not it is recyclable.  Since you have read the article…(you did read it, didn’t you: OK, read it later when you can’t sleep)…you now can understand the issues a little more.  There is nothing in PVC that is degradable by re-extruding…except…answer please—the internal and external waxes that are placed in the compound in order to process it. Those ingredients are diminished on each extrusion cycle.  However, the designers of the compound know this and they put in enough of the internal and external waxes into the compound so that the material can go through a multiple cycles of extrusion/recycling–extrusion/recycling.  They have been doing this for over 30 years. The reason for doing this had nothing to do about saving the environment–it had to do about keeping the extruders in business.  Extruding PVC (vinyl) into window profiles is very difficult because the product requires tolerances in the thousanths of an inch.  As a result there has always been “scrap” inherent in the business. A good extruder will have “scrap” in the 10% range, a bad extruder will have “scrap” far exceeding 10%.   Extrusion companies have aways had to reuse that “scrap”, lest go out of business.

In the past, extrusion companies–for some reason or the other–have always kept it a secret.  In truth, when PVC is run a second time, you can argue that the finished goods are better than that which you get from running virgin material.  Why, you may ask, is that? Well…when PVC is blended with all the other ingredients, the compound (dryblend) is actually blended in a high speed mixer to around 210oF then dropped into a cooler unit which drops the dryblend temp to around 140oF2. At this temperature the material is dropped from the cooler, considered blended and packaged for delivery.  OK, let me use an analogy, it’s like a bread dough.  The more you knead it, the more homogenized the dough gets.  The more you knead the PVC dough the more the impact modifiers (typically acrylic plastics) and other ingredients get interspersed into the mix.  Actually you can think of window grade PVC as an alloy of PVC, Acrylic plastics, TiO2, etc…the more you mix it the greater the bond between the amalgamation of materials.

I think you can imagine, sometimes it does not get fully blended by the compounder (perhaps they don’t blend it long enough at the raised temperature, or perhaps they lower the max temperature just a tad.)  For whatever reason, there are times when the material does not fully “fuse” in the barrel of the extruder.  In essence, the extruder barrel does not have time to do the final mixing of the material.  If it is not fused or mixed sufficiently in the barrel, then the end result will be brittle material.  Do you know the magic solution to this problem…drum roll please….answer: grind it up and extrude it again. WHAT! SACRILEGE, you say!…no really–that’s reality.   Each time you run the material in an extruder, you will blend the material a little more.  There is a point at which further blending is unnecessary, but it certainly is not going to “degrade” the PVC molecule by further processing3.   The other ingredients also do not degrade.  Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) is a mineral that gives the PVC it’s resistance against the Ultra-violet (UV) rays of the Sun. Window compound has to have at least 9 parts per 100 of TiO2 in order to effectively keep the UV rays from degrading the PVC. TiO2 is literally a rock mined from the earth.  It will NOT degrade in the Sun and it will NOT degrade by re-extruding the PVC. It is the primary ingredient in PVC to make PVC exterior weatherable.  So now you know the truth.

Prudently selected recycled PVC can create a better product. We do it every day. The key is managing the source of the PVC and then managing the sorting process. It has to be cleaned of foreign debris such as silicone, woolpile,  odd colors–such as black flex material. At MGM we have become experts in recycling vinyl, and we are proud of it. (For our application, the collected recyclate has to have at least 9/100 of TiO2 in the compound, so we only recycle window and door grade PVC) 4.

That’s why we can honestly say that using a blend of 20% regrind and 80% virgin can produce a better product then running 100% virgin.  Actually one can reasonably argue that windows made out of 100% regrind is better than windows made out of 100% virgin material. I can go on and on about this subject, but I think I’ve bore you enough.  The bottom line is that PVC can be recycled and should be recycled. We live in a complex world which is ever growing in population. As a society and as a people, we have to make good environmentally sound decisions if we want to protect our earth.  I think it is socially responsible to provide uPVC (vinyl) windows because they are so energy efficient, and, at the same time, we can be environmentally sensitive to our planets needs by recycling as much uPVC material as possible.  At MGM we recycle more uPVC than we produce internally within our company.  It is possible to recycle uPVC and we do it. If you want to know more, just give me a call, I’m Abe and I love PVC, I think it is a great material.   To learn more about MGM Industries vinyl windows and doors go to our website.

1The truth is that blue-white material has blue pigment in it.  I don’t for the life of me know why years ago the fenestration industry standardized on blue-white material.  Some years ago the standard changed to “euro-white”, which is none other than the natural color of the PVC compound blended formula without any pigments.  I’ll bet ya’ a buck it was just a me-too type of thing:  somebody introduced a blue-white window and the copy-cat market eventually standardized on it, until market pricing forced the blue-white pigment out of the compound. (my opinion, and you know what they say about opinions.)

2A very good friend/compound engineer corrected me a bit. Originally, I stated the dryblend was dropped at 140o and did not mention the maximum 210oF. He brought my error to my attention and I learned something about the details of compounding that I did not previously know. The point is, when I am in error, I would appreciate it if I am corrected. I enjoy learning and I want my blog to be interesting and factually correct.

3Actually, you can keep recycling the material until enough of the internal and external waxes are deminished to the point at which the surface finish will look like an orange peel. At this point the material is sticking to the exit plates of the extrusion die, the screw and the barrel of the extruder. The test lab located at the compounder can process the material until it yellows. In practice, the extrusion company will not see the yellowing because the surface finish will be the first thing to be unacceptable. If yellowing occurs I think it is reasonable to say that the PVC molecule is degrading. In my tenure at MGM, I have not seen any yellowing of recycled PVC. Therefore I make the statement that reprocessing uPVC by the extruder will not breakdown the PVC molecule. The PVC extrudate leaves the “hot die” at about 360oF. At this temperature the PVC will not burn because it does not stay at this temperature very long.
4As yet another side note, our sash material has flexible vinyl in it to act as a seal against water infiltration. This material has plasticizers in it that will benefit the impact of the finished product when it is recycled into rigid vinyl. This will absolutely benefit the impact of vinyl.

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17 Responses to Can PVC or Vinyl be recycled?

  1. Very well said Abe. very interesting and informative. Great Blog topic!

  2. Bob Patrick says:

    Great explanation! Interesting topic. Now I am a PVC expert … well maybe not an expert, but definitely more knowlegable than the average Joe. THANKS!

  3. Ted Blackwell says:

    Thanks again Abe ….

    I learn something every time I get one of your newsletters … what is it about teaching old dogs new tricks ?
    I had always heard the regrind was a bad thing, but I guess it depends on what you grind … I know one of my suppliers of extrusions product has virtually NO MEMORY when it comes to bending and trying to repair dings and bumps with a hot air gun.
    The other supplier however has tremendous “go back” power The one with very little memory is the light weight extrusion, so do you think the lighter walls are the culprit or is it something in the formula when it is compounded, (or the lack of something).

    Thanks again my friend.
    Ted B.

    • Ted,
      I suspect the reason that it has no memory is because the wall thickness is about 0.062. Thin walls will make the profile difficult to repair dings. Basically there is nothing to absorb the heat, so when you apply heat other areas will distort. When we design a part for bending we try to beef-up the wall thickness to about 0.100 inch. This will make the product much, much easier to bend and much easier to repair the dings. I personally do not think it is a formulation issue. There are only a few companies that supply to the fenestration industry and all have very similar formulas. All of the companies that I know use Tin (Sn) as a heat stabilizer with one exception. I think Westlake uses a Zinc heat stabilizer. Zinc is used as a heat stabilizer in Europe. I do not think that a Zinc heat stabilizer will cause the issue.

  4. Plastics are also called synthetic resins and are broadly classified into two categories: thermosetting resins and thermoplastic resins.

    The thermosetting resins include phenolic resin and melamine resin, which are thermally hardened and never become soft again. Thermoplastic resins include PVC, polyethylene , polystyrene and polypropylene , which can be re-softened by heating.

  5. Chris Turner says:

    Abe,

    As always, your posts are extremely informative. Even though I have visited your manufacturing complex and witness the processes, I did not realize how much science was behind the creation of vinyl windows. The fact that, “window compound has to have at least 9 parts per 100 of TiO2 in order to effectively keep the UV rays from degrading the PVC” tells me that there is a lot of care and concern that goes into each vinyl product to ensure the products are effective and durable. Thanks, great post!

  6. Great article. I’ve sold vinyl windows for years but really until recently never cared much about the process behind the vinyl. I guess with age comes wisdom. Very interesting.

    One question, can the frames of old vinyl windows be recycled?

    • abe says:

      Actually Veka-Europe has a facility to receive old vinyl frames. Here is a link to a YouTube video that Veka produced. They spent millions on the plant that is located in Germany. I really do not know if it is a project with an adequate return on investment and don’t know if they would make the same investment today. I’d guess that the process is not sustainable from an ROI standpoint, but it is being done. Click on this link to go to the Veka Youtube video.

  7. Terry Pritt says:

    Do you sell regrind PVC?

    • abe says:

      Terry,
      We sell very little regrind PVC. We would entertain the idea of developing part that is not color critical. This way we would be using up all of our PVC internally to our company. We do have a stock pile of off-color PVC that we would consider selling. Give me a call or email me if you would like to buy our off-colored material.

  8. Jason says:

    Very interesting and informative article.
    I was wondering if you recycle or know of companies that recycle plastic childrens toys? Correct me if im wrong (im new and still learning about these products and the industry in general) but arent most childrens plastic toys made primarily from PVC?
    I have upwards of 100,000 lbs of plastic childrens toys and am finding a really hard time finding companies out there that could / would recycle such items.
    I would really appreciate any feedback, information or guidance on this.
    Thank you so much,

    Jason

    • abe says:

      Jason, even though your toys might be PVC, there are many grades of PVC. Without knowing the compound, it could be usable for a pipe manufacturing company or a seawall manufacturing company. It would not be usable in window and doors because I am sure that there are no UV stabilizers in the toys because those ingredients are expensive: probably not used as a result of the cost. You might look up Regenex , I think they are doing some seawall extrusions. Maybe they can use your material.

  9. Ara says:

    do you know of who I can call in California to find a place to dispose of my vinyl windows?

    Thanks,
    Ara

    • abe says:

      Ara,
      Honestly I do not know of anywhere in the Southeast where you can take your old vinyl windows for disposal. As an extension of that lack of knowledge, I do not know of a waste recover program in California. As many windows are in the U.S. market, I wish an waste recovery program would be put in place to handle the waste steam. Here’s a link to a YouTube video on what is happening in Europe.

  10. Don says:

    Do you know of or where it’s possible to recycle/regrind the white pvc dimensional wood trim? It’s exterior grade pvc, so I’m assuming it has UV stabilizers…

    • abe says:

      Don,
      Yes white PVC dimensional trim is cellular PVC. It has a forming agent in it that is used during the extrusion process to intrain micro bubbles of air in it. It is a different formulation the window and door PVC but it does of UV stabilizers in it.

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