Chicago-based Azek Co. Inc.'s efforts to use more recycled PVC in its decking products is helping the vinyl industry meet goals to keep products made of the widely used plastic out of landfills.
While 85 percent of pre-consumer and industrial PVC, such as manufacturing scraps, rejects and trimmings, is recycled in the U.S. and Canada, only 14 percent of post-consumer PVC goods, such as vinyl floors, siding and roofing membranes, gets recycled.
A lack of end markets, limited recycling infrastructure and poor collection logistics all contribute to a high landfill rate for the world's third-most popular plastic in the U.S. and Canada.
To tackle the problem, the Vinyl Institute, a Washington-based trade association, and its Vinyl Sustainability Council are making landfill diversion a priority. The groups have set a modest goal to increase post-consumer PVC recycling by 10 percent over the 2016 rate, which was 100 million pounds, by 2025.
To that end, the council is looking for ways to improve collection of post-consumer PVC products, possibly by building up volumes at transfer stations for trucks that haul 40,000-pound loads; calling on product manufacturers to increase recycled PVC content; and asking investors and grant providers to expand mechanical recycling infrastructure for sorting, washing, shredding and pulverizing.
"As an industry, we have made tremendous strides in PVC recycling with more than 1.1 billion pounds recycled annually. We recognize the feasibility and cost effectiveness of post-industrial recycling, but much more needs to be done on the post-consumer side," Jay Thomas, executive director of the Vinyl Sustainability Council, said in a recent webinar.
Thomas was among the speakers at the council's Vinyl Recycling Summit webinar, which was posted online June 29.
Azek is helping lead the way for the vinyl industry with its $18.1 million acquisition of Ashland, Ohio-based Return Polymers, a recycler and compounder of PVC. The deck maker is a good example of a company finding success using recycled material, according to the council.
In fiscal year 2019, Azek used more than 290 million pounds of recycled materials in its deck boards, and company officials expect to increase the amount by more than 25 percent in fiscal year 2020, according to Azek's IPO prospectus.
Return Polymers enhances Azek's in-house recycling capabilities across its line of TimberTech Azek decking, Azek Exteriors trim, Versatex cellular PVC trim and Vycom sheet products.
With estimated sales of $515 million, Azek is the the No. 8 pipe, profile and tubing extruder in North America, according to Plastics News' new ranking.
Return Polymers is the 38th-largest recycler in North America, running 80 million pounds of PVC, according to other Plastics News ranking data. About 70 percent of that comes from post-industrial and 30 percent from post-consumer sources.
Return Polymers creates PVC polymer blends from 100 percent recycled sources similar to the way traditional compound manufacturers use raw materials. The business continues to sell to outside customers while also being a supply chain partner to its new owner Azek.
"We're committed to accelerating the use of recycled materials. That is the core of who we are and what we do," Ryan Hartz, Azek's vice president of sourcing, said during the webinar. "We leverage our science and R&D team to figure out how to use more recycled and sustainable products, in particular PVC and polyethylene as well."
To Azek, doing the right thing is using more recycled plastic, Hartz added, noting up to 80 percent of the material in its wood and PE composite TimberTech-brand decking lines is recycled, while 54 percent of its capped polymer decking is recycled PVC.
By comparison, Winchester, Va.-based Trex Co. Inc. says its decks are made from 95 percent reclaimed wood and recycled PE film.
With $694 million in annual sales, Trex is North America's No. 6 pipe, profile and tubing producer, according to Plastic News rankings.
Trex also says a lack of efficient collection processes prevents its used decking products from being recycled at the end of their lifespan.
"As composite use becomes more widespread and collection programs are developed, Trex will make all efforts to advance these programs," Trex says in its sustainability report.
At Azek, Hartz said end-of-service-life issues related to decking are on the front burner.
"The majority of our products are recyclable at the end of their useful lives, and we're currently investigating all options that could potentially help us bring our recycling efforts full circle," Hartz said.
Azek's three primary decking product lines are TimberTech Azek, which includes the capped PVC collections called Harvest, Arbor and Vintage; TimberTech Pro, which includes PE and wood composite decking called Terrain, Reserve and Legacy; and TimberTech Edge, which includes PE and wood composites called Prime, Prime+ and Premier.