In 2019, the UK and Ireland collected and recycled a total of 143,428 tonnes of waste PVC across all PVC recycling formats, with PVC window profiles accounting for 86,057 tonnes, according to latest industry figures. This achievement represents 18.6% of the 771,313 tonnes of waste PVC - 47% derived from window frames and related building products - recycled across Europe in 2019 and puts the UK just behind Germany in terms of tonnes of waste PVC recycled - a new record high and 4.3% up on the previous year.
Recovinyl, the PVC industry’s recycling scheme, was the largest contributor to this total, registering a total of 769,233 tonnes of PVC waste entirely recycled in Europe in 2019.
In 2019, 13 new recyclers joined the Recovinyl network. Demand for recycled rigid PVC remained very high. At the same time, more PVC waste was available from cables – particularly in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland and the UK – due to reduced exports to China.
Industry concern continues over changes to the Basel Convention, an international treaty governing shipments of hazardous waste, that has deemed PVC to be a ‘notifiable’ waste.
This would create more paperwork and cost for UK-based suppliers, making the import and export of waste PVC between the UK to the EU more difficult.
Changes to the Convention, which will come into effect from 1 January 2021, will see non-hazardous plastic waste that is not recyclable or is ‘difficult’ to recycle categorised as waste requiring ‘special consideration’ and listed in the Convention’s Annex II. Some single polymer plastic wastes, such as PET and PP, are exempt, whereas PVC is not - unfairly so, argued Richard McKinlay, head of consulting at resource recovery specialist Axion, Recovinyl’s Regional Representative for the UK.
“Under the Convention rules, PET is ‘green-listed’, even though in reality PVC is much more widely recycled than PET and the recyclate used widely in durable and long-life products, for example in the building and construction sectors,” he said
While the UK has a well-established PVC recycling infrastructure, especially for window profiles, Richard explains that much cable waste from Europe is imported for use in traffic management products and that this supply chain is needed to maintain production. Current uncertainty could mean UK manufacturers losing out on useful raw materials.
Simon Scholes, managing director of VEKA Recycling noted that while the legislation will mean more paperwork, it will also force the industry to be ‘more professional’ and offer a reliable and sustainable service to companies handling waste PVC.
“The industry in general has stepped up and made PVC recycling happen,” he said.
“As an industry, of course we will overcome these future hurdles. We’ve invested too much time, money and passion not to make it succeed.”
Established in 2003, Recovinyl is an initiative by the European PVC value-chain aimed at facilitating PVC waste collection and recycling under the Voluntary Commitments of Vinyl 2010 and its successor programme, VinylPlus. Cumulatively, 5.7 million tonnes of PVC have been recycled within the Vinyl 2010 and VinylPlus frameworks across Europe since 2000, preventing the release of 11.4 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.