Humanity was at the heart of a recent vinyl industry project in the Watts area of Los Angeles. For six days in June, a coalition of four vinyl industry associations and 18 member companies helped Habitat for Humanity International blitz-build 21 homes along Santa Ana Boulevard, as part of Habitat's yearly Jimmy Carter Work Project. In all, the ad hoc Vinyl Industry Construction Coalition, led by the Vinyl Institute, donated $95,000 worth of vinyl building products, including siding, soffit, windows, flooring and electrical boxes and conduit, as well as on-site training and supervision for their installation.
Sure, there was the huge public relations blitz that accompanied the altruism, with key vinyl industry people at the Watts building site touting the benefits of their products. But the coalition's goal was more than PR hype. Perhaps most impressive is that vinyl industry representatives sweated alongside 2,000 Habitat volunteers to raise 21 houses in just 51/2 days.
Still, the real gem for the industry, and what sets this Habitat venture apart from others, was the on-site recycling of more than 2,000 pounds of vinyl scrap, most of it siding.
Like most ideas, this one has a past.
Jim Kosinski, who retired June 30 from Dow Chemical Co., first ``had the vision,'' of hooking up with Habitat to promote vinyl recycling, said Jill Stillo, spokeswoman for Occidental Chemical Corp. and a member of the coalition.
Knowing the vinyl industry was looking for a way to sell its image, Kosinski took his idea to the Vinyl Institute, where he headed up a task force to begin fleshing out the project's goals. But Kosinski is quick to deny credit for the whole show, since so many players saw the Habitat project through, from start to finish.
Among them was Richard Ryder, director of training and environmental affairs at Klckner Pentaplast of America Inc. in Gordonsville, Va., who chairs the Vinyl Institute Group on Recycling, known as VIGOR. Ryder first met with Habitat's associate director of corporate programs, Sybil Carter, in September at the nonprofit group's Americus, Ga., headquarters.
The Vinyl Institute was ``looking for a good recycling project to showcase PVC,'' he said, and Habitat was eager to participate.
``The interest in the beginning had to do with recycling,'' Carter agreed. ``We have a lot of products at the building site. And we try to be good stewards and we try to recycle.''
But Habitat doesn't always have the resources and facilities to recycle the products, she added.
Ryder and Carter concluded that the ``best place [for the vinyl coalition] to get a lot of attention'' for its efforts was at JCWP, Habitat's once-a-year plum project, she said.
``It's well and good to be a part of a social program. But business is business,'' said Carter, who is also President Jimmy Carter's sister-in-law.
``What we wanted to do was show people that vinyl can be recycled at a job site,'' Stillo said. ``Habitat had never thought of doing that before.''
The coalition decided to make the recycling project a closed-loop operation, Stillo said. At the Los Angeles site, vinyl scrap was collected in small bins, transported by wheelbarrows to a large, centrally located gaylord, then ground by paid workers from Whittier, Calif.-based Talco Plastics Inc. using portable grinders, to show people how the process works.
Last, Pacific Western Extruded Plastics Co. of Eugene, Ore., carted the regrind to its Perris, Calif., plant, where it coextrudes three-layer PVC pipe.
Roughly 70 percent of all vinyl produced yearly goes into such long-life items as siding, windows pipe and cars, while only about 5 percent is used in packaging, said Brad Thwing, environmental spokesman for the Vinyl Institute. But the industry is just beginning to recycle scrap from construction sites, said Robert Burnett, the institute's executive director.
What made this recycling project feasible, Burnett said, was the volume of vinyl scrap collected from 21 homes going up all at once. Typically there is not enough vinyl generated at building sites to make collecting it practical, he said.
Each year President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, join the JCWP build, bringing a little limelight to Habitat's cause ofeliminating substandard housing worldwide. This year's JCWP put up 30 houses across Southern California in a week. The volunteers who assembled in South Central Los Angeles hailed from all over the United States and as far away as South Korea.
By day volunteers did 85 percent of the work, including all the framing, sheathing, siding, roofing and installing of windows and doors, said Habitat's Steve Wright, who heads the L.A. affiliate. At night paid electricians and plumbers converged to finish the job. Everything about the build went ``relatively smoothly,'' Wright said.
Besides the Vinyl Institute, a Morristown, N.J., unit of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., the coalition included SPI's Vinyl Siding and Vinyl Window and Door institutes, both in Washington; the Resilient Floor Covering Institute in Rockville, Md.; and 18 contributing companies, including three resin makers. PW Pipe supplied perforated sections of its recycled-content pipe, which were buried beside trees to aid watering. Cobb Mountain Spring Water Co. contributed bottled water, packaged in vinyl, of course, and also recycled. And there were others.
The coming together of all those Habitat volunteers, and coalition parties, was not the pandemonium one might expect, said Jery Huntley, executive director of VSI and VWDI, who crossed the country to take part in the build, held June 19-24.
All concurred that the vinyl industry probably will do it again.
Both Huntley and Burnett said their groups were looking into other opportunities with Habitat projects already in the works. And they are encouraging their member companies to get involved with Habitat locally.
In fact, several of the coalition's companies are not newcomers to Habitat, having donated products and cash to local affiliates, where they ``don't get a lot of PR publicity out of it,'' Stillo said.
With 1,200 Habitat affiliates across the United States, houses are going up year-round.
In the United States, Habitat's larger, corporate projects try to use vinyl siding almost exclusively because it is so ``volunteer-friendly,'' Carter said. But its affiliates use what they can get. In Los Angeles, where houses primarily are stucco, Wright said vinyl does not always fit in with the established neighborhood aesthetic.
Nonetheless, the Habitat library now has 200 manuals and videotapes on installing siding, courtesy of Huntley's groups.
``These people loved our products,'' she said.
But Wright seemed keen on commending the generosity of Huntley and other coalition members, ``who were directly responsible for 21 families having 21 new homes.''
Habitat, a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry, was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. Since then it has constructed more than 35,000 homes worldwide. The Habitat houses in Watts cost buyers $60,000-$75,000 and are subsidized through 20-year, interest-free home loans.