Europe’s PVC industry successfully reached its goal last year of recycling another 200,000 tonnes of materials. Now we are seeing a new voluntary commitment by the industry as seen by the start up of the VinylPlus system.
All around the world, countries are looking at decreasing regulation on what companies have to do to meet environmental and social standards. This is not because the governments do not care, they believe that through this deregulation companies will become responsible for their own environmental programmes and, so far, it seems to be working.
There are two sides to the argument however as some people struggle to see why companies would want to be responsible if there is no legal obligation to do this. They might ask why these companies would waste their profits on such socially beneficial goals. However, in today’s political environment, when many politicians are working on restoring their economies, self-regulation of industries will be appealing. It is also argued that politicians simply cannot keep up with the amount of legislation required to effectively regulate an industry.
PVC is one of the worlds most used polymers. It can be used in a wide range of industries, from automotive to electronics. By the turn of the millennium it was estimated that the value of PVC in used was around 75 billion Euros worth.
The use of PVC was so widespread by the 1990s that its waste was becoming a problem. There was a lack of recycling options and some people had concerns over additives in the polymer. In order to prevent regulations being imposed by the EU, the industry introduced a programme of self-regulation.
The programme was called Vinyl 2010 and initiated research into the recycling of PVC. It also made a commitment to recycle over 200,000 tonnes of PVC every year. Helmuth Leitner of the European Council of Vinyl Manufactures has said, “Compared to the amount of PVC produced, 200,000 tonnes might not seem like a very ambitious goal, but remember that most PVC products will last decades before they are recycled. Also, this 200,000 figure was in addition to all existing obligations under EU legislation.”
At the end of the 1990s most people regarded vinyl as simply ‘unrecyclable.’ This attitude has slowly changed over time however and in 2004 a major breakthrough was achieved when, under the Vinyl 2010 programme, the Recovinyl initiative was launched. This gave financial rewards to those who collected waste vinyl from waste areas, particularly from the construction sector. This led to a massive increase in recycling volumes, from 20,000 tonnes in 2005 to 260,000 tonnes in 2010.
PVC can be recycled in two ways and these have helped the industry achieve its recycling targets. The first method is to grind down the PVC into small pieces and the second is to break it down into its chemical components.