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Evaluating PVCu's Environmental Image

3 August 2007

Here Eurocell Building Plastics takes a look at the initiatives the PVC-u industry has been taking to improve its environmental image.

“Imagine if local authorities could specify a product that was made entirely from recycled material and in addition also helped them meet the latest Building Regulations thermal performance requirements. Sounds too good to be true? Not if you look closely enough although the answer might be a surprise. PVC-u is not a material often associated with recycling but in this case the whole industry is taking positive steps towards helping local authorities meet their environmental targets. Quite unjustly PVC-u isn't always given the credit it deserves in terms of its environmental benefits. Undoubtedly it is a low maintenance material that requires no painting and offers longevity, however the thinking that it is not possible to recycle PVC-u is somewhat outdated. PVC-u has been used extensively in a range of construction products for over half a century and its strong, durable and lightweight properties make it ideal for window and door profiles.

When used in windows and doors un-plasticised PVC-u is one of the most rigid polymers at normal ambient temperature and shows little deterioration after many years of service. This is just one of the reasons why it has become such a popular choice with local authorities looking for a cost effective low maintenance solution.

Suppliers within the PVC-u industry know they have a superb material in terms of its thermal performance, longevity and maintenance but its perception in terms of a positive environmental choice still needs addressing. Over the last few years the industry has therefore invested a large amount of resource into improving the recycling of PVC-u. The starting off point was always going to be the waste material generated during the manufacturing process. There is also much development work going into the recycling of the frames when they are replaced on site. However, the focus on manufacturing waste meant that in addition to improving the environmental aspect the industry was also able to keep costs down at a time when raw materials were spiraling in price. Forward thinking players in the PVC-u industry have already implemented ISO14001 the internationally recognized environmental standard. By taking this a step further we have set up teams within our business that focus purely on improving the environmental aspect of our operations even further and a major area of this is in recycling polymer.

On a wider level legislation within the industry is also providing the ideal catalyst to drive forward innovations that use recycled material to make products that actually improve thermal performances. Take for instance the updated ADL which was introduced back in April 2006 to deliver a 20% improvement in the thermal performance of dwellings. These same Building Regulations will be tightened again in 2010 and 2013, as part of the keen to ensure that all their properties including houses and public buildings meet the highest thermal standards possible.

The improvements needed in thermal performances now means that many local authorities prefer to use cavity closers because it aids compliance with the tighter Building Regulations. The tightening of the regulations therefore prompted us to focus on improving our existing cavity closer and also to try and use waste polymer to manufacture this item. At the outset we considered that this would be the ideal outcome as cavity closers improve air tightness minimising heat loss between the jambs and cills, and as it would be produced from recycled material would make it an ideal environmental choice. For us it was a major breakthrough when we finally developed a method of using waste polymer to produce the cavity closer and, with the addition of expanded polystyrene, we were able to improve the thermal performance even further. The fact that the cavity closer is made from 100 per cent recycled material makes this product perfect for many local authority developments and it is very satisfying to find that a recycled product also helps improve a dwelling’s thermal performance.

The idea to produce a cavity closer made from entirely recycled material therefore made sense from both an environment aspect and also because of the need to meet the latest thermal regulations. The cavity closer is something we are very proud of as it is our first product to be made from 100 per cent recycled material. This is a great way to reduce the amount of waste generated by the manufacturing process which also improves the environmental credentials of our mainstream window profile extrusions used in many local authority projects. The simple fact is that this cavity closer has helped dramatically reduce our waste generated in the factory. The added advantage is that because it helps reduce raw material usage it keeps cost increases to a minimum which is another important factor to ensure good value for our customers and specifiers.

The cavity closer, which has just been launched across all our Eurocell Building Plastics depots is an excellent starting point for many of our customers in terms of specifying recycled products. These recycled products are stocked in all of our 76 depots nationally which ensures easy availability for local authority contractors. Looking to the future, the PVC-u industry will continue to develop new products from recycled material and, where possible, ones that help meet the latest building regulations. The cavity closer produced from recycled material is just the start of a move towards more environmentally friendly PVC-u products that actually improve a dwelling thermal performance.”

For more information visit the website www.eurocell.co.uk or contact Eurocell on 0300 333 6525

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