Report Examines Prospects for Fenestration Recycling

August 7, 2008

After almost three years of work, including a pilot project, a group within the American Architectural Manufacturers Association’s Vinyl Material Council is nearing completion of a white paper that outlines the potential for recycling PVC fenestration products at the end-of-life. Entitled Avoiding the Landfill: The Recycling of Vinyl Windows and Doors, the eight-page report was co-authored by Brad Esckilsen of Formosa Plastics and David Pirwitz of Urban Machinery on behalf of the vinyl group’s environmental stewardship committee.

The study concludes that, given a sufficient volume of windows to recycle, processes and equipment can be easily redesigned using currently available technology.

The issues in establishing a window recycling program are the same regardless of window frame material, not just PVC, the group also suggests. As a result, the report suggests that window recycling should be looked at for all frame material types to ensure that recyclers have a sufficient volume of windows and doors to make the needed redesign of their process equipment economically feasible.

This white paper is currently being released for ballot within AAMA to approve its publication. Highlights from the paper, however, are featured in the latest Vinyl Material Council newsletter.

The paper reviews vinyl’s green attributes, including its recyclability, noting that the vast majority of post industrial vinyl scrap is already recycled. It also examines the existing infrastructure for vinyl recycling in North America.

The report also provides details on a recycling case study or pilot project set up by the AAMA study group to help evaluate each step in the recycling process for windows and doors. The project involved 600 windows removed by a manufacturer member of the AAMA vinyl council. Approximately half of these window units were hand-sorted into frames and glass, which were separately shipped to vinyl and glass recyclers. (The report offers a special note of thanks to Milgard Windows & Doors for donating the labor for this phase of the project). The glass was recycled into a feedstock for fiberglass and the vinyl became fence rails that are being donated to Habitat for Humanity builds in the Gulf Coast region.

The balance of the windows were shipped whole to a recycler to test the compatibility with equipment used to shred and separate computer monitors. This method was chosen because vinyl windows would be similar to computer monitors—as they would probably regularly be recycled by mixed materials recyclers, and ideally processed as whole units, potentially eliminating the material separation step. Although the difference in size and shapes of monitor housings compared with windows caused many inefficiencies—which are identified in the white paper—it was determined that given a sufficient volume of windows, processes and equipment could easily be redesigned to recycle them.

The paper also examines European experiences in vinyl window recycling, as well as activities among other vinyl product manufacturers.