Understanding recycling terminology
Our industry is full of jargon and acronyms, so in this blog we explain some of the terms you would be likely to encounter in the context of sustainability and recycling PVC-U for future reference
If there are any terms you aren't sure of, please don't hesitate to use our contact us page to drop us a line.
This refers to the reduction in landfill resulting from recycling. For example, the Eurocell group saved the equivalent of three million frames going to landfill.
This British Standard is the “Framework for implementing the principles of the circular economy (see below) in organizations”. It sets out guidelines by which companies such as Eurocell can strive towards achieving increased sustainability by creating a ‘closed loop’ of materials usage.
A carbon footprint measures the total greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organisation, event or product. It calculates the greenhouse gases expected to be produced by all our activities and measures them in units and tonnages of carbon dioxide. The world average is about 4,000 kg of carbon dioxide per person and, in the UK, it is nearly 10,000 kg per person. Interestingly, the single most effective step any individual can take to reduce their personal carbon footprint is simply not to fly.
If business relies upon resources that cannot be renewed, then it limits its own growth. If, instead, it can use re-use material, then growth is unshackled from these resources – and sustainability is a given. This is the ‘circular economy’. See BS 8001:2017 above.
Closed loop refers to taking the waste or by-products of one process and utilising them to make new products in another. One example might be recycling newspapers to make packaging materials. In Eurocell’s case this is taking old PVC-U windows and using to make new PVC-U windows!
Co-mingled refers to materials which are mixed with others. In the case of PVC-U windows, this would obviously include glass, gaskets, reinforcement and hardware. The first job in the recycling process is deglaze then crush down the complete window to enable the separation of plastics, rubber, glass and metals.
This term describes a product life cycle, from creation (cradle) to end of life (grave)
Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)
Using a standard format, an EPD turns the data from a Life Cycle Assessment into a simpler to read document.
Life cycle / Life span
Life cycle less refers to the life expectancy of a product, and more to how it is treated – the stages of manufacture, through use and disposal – ‘cradle to grave’. Obviously, where closed loop manufacture is in play, the life cycle involves recovering and repurposing materials for future use. In the case of PVC-U windows, current expectation is that the plastic element can be re-used up to 10 times. With each window having a useful life expectancy of 35 years; that means the plastic can be used in manufacture for up to 350 years!
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
An LCA looks at the impact of a manufactured product on the environment through its complete life-cycle - from raw materials used in creation of the product to end of life disposal.
Micronisation is the process of reducing a solid material into small diameter particles. Traditional techniques for micronisation focus on mechanical means, such as milling and grinding, using compactors and the like. micronisation permits fine separation, as carried out by colour sorters and other machinery.
Similar to micronisation, pelletising is the process of compressing or moulding a material into the shape of a pellet – sort of an aspirin-sized tablet. This is how reclaimed PVC-U leaves our recycling plant for use in our own factories or those of our extruding customers.
Post-consumer waste is a phrase use to describe materials or finished products that have reached the end of their life expectancy, or served their useful purpose, and have been saved from disposal to be recycled. In our case, this obviously means old PVC-U doors and windows from the residential and commercial replacement sectors.
Post-industrial is slightly different to post-consumer waste, as it represents materials that have yet to enter the marketplace. It can refer to factory offcuts, waste from test runs, damaged items and so on. It relates to our own manufacturing processes, and those of our customers from who we collect.
Polyvinyl chloride – unplasticised (PVC-U)
While often referred to as uPVC or just PVC, the correct term for some time now is PVC-U. This is simply so that when the material is listed in contents or catalogues, it takes its rightful alphabetical place amid other types of PVC (e.g. PVC-C). ‘Soft’ plasticised PVC – is used, for examples, in toys and bubble wrap and cling film. Rigid, unplasticised, PVC is the kind that is used for doors and windows. As mentioned above, it can be re-used up to 10 times, conferring a potential life-expectancy of up to 350 years!
Another word to describe micronised/ pelletised PVC-U, and often used almost interchangeably within the industry as ‘recycled’ (e.g. our frames contain 45% reground/ recycled content).
Resin is the basic raw material of PVC-U doors and windows. It looks like powdered milk, and is essentially made from oil and salt – both naturally occurring substances. The more processed product we can recycle, the less need for resin, reducing our dependence on new materials – especially oil.
As the word suggests, this is fresh PVC-U that has yet to enter manufacturing process – or refers to the first time use of it. A new window without any recycled content would be described as being made of ‘virgin’ materials.