Used PVC products are too good to throw away. The European PVC industry has organised a recovery system for the most important PVC products in order to save valuable resources and has set ambitious goals for the future.
Increase in Recovery Quotas
VinylPlus Deutschland (former AGPU) and other associations have commissioned the Conversio Market & Strategy GmbH at regular intervals to compile data about PVC waste in Germany. In 2017, the amount of PVC waste was approximately 695,000 tonnes (647,300 tonnes in 2013). This corresponds to 1-2% of the overall volume of household waste and industrial waste similar to household waste. The share of post-consumer waste from this amount was at 568,100 tonnes (520,300 tonnes in 2013). Approximately 155,000 tonnes (140,000 tonnes in 2013) of this amount were recycled mechanically and by feedstock recycling. If production waste (post-industrial) is included in these statistics, the amount of recycled materials totals approximately 257,000 tonnes (243,000 tonnes in 2013). In actuality, the recycled amount is even higher. “In-house recycling” is not included in these statistics. During this process, the production waste generated in converting machines is comminuted and then immediately recovered.
Based on the overall amount of waste (post-consumer and post-industrial), the recycling quota is approximately 37%. Additional PVC waste undergoes energy recovery through state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technology – primarily in waste incineration plants. Since PVC has a calorific value similar to that of brown coal (approximately 19 MJ/kg), the material contributes positively to energy balance when incinerated in household waste (approximately 11 MJ/kg).
Mechanical recycling has been used in PVC production and processing for many decades. The largest part of unmixed waste flows directly back into production. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the PVC industry has developed a number of initiatives for the recovery of post-consumer waste which are now established on the market.
In waste management, construction products are the most important PVC waste in terms of volume. In Germany, this waste is handled by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft PVC-Bodenbelag Recycling (AgPR) or the Industrieverband Kunststoffbahnen Europe e.V. (tarpaulins, membranes, tents and artificial leather). For windows, Rewindo GmbH has set up a nationwide take-back system with its recycling partners. Finally, for many years the Kunststoffrohrverband e.V. (KRV) has been promoting mechanical recycling for many years and, together with PreZero Kunststoffrecycling GmbH & Co.KG in Börde-Hakel, ensures the recycling of plastic pipe waste. The PVC industry in Germany also cooperates with the European Recovinyl initiative founded by VinylPlus®.
Recycling services are also available for packaging, cables, credit cards and mixed PVC waste. These and a variety of recycling products are listed in the PVC Recycling Finder. With its sustainable take-back and recycling schemes for its end-of-life products, the PVC industry is making a major contribution to resource efficiency and sustainable business.
Chemical and Feedstock Recycling
Hydrogen chloride can be obtained in pure form through the thermal treatment of PVC products. The hydrocarbon content in the PVC is used in the same process to generate heat or electricity. In chemical recycling, pyrolysis oil or synthesis gas is produced from the proportionate material flow of the hydrocarbons. The hydrogen chloride, for example, can be recycled back into PVC production. These feedstock and chemical processes are divided into processes with and without chlorine limitation. The recycling process without chlorine limitation is particularly suitable for contaminated and PVC-rich mixed plastic fractions. The PVC industry has been investigating suitable technologies for feedstock recycling of PVC-rich waste streams since 1992, mainly at European level. The input for the chemical and feedstock processes should be limited to mixed and dirty PVC waste, and should not include PVC waste from separate collection for which there are established mechanical processes. Overall, however, the raw material and chemical recycling of plastics is still under development.