Akron, Ohio — Recycling means PET bottles and HDPE milk jugs, right? Katie Chapman said recycling is much broader than that, and it can even mean PVC membranes for industrial and commercial roofing, a product that lasts for decades.
"Roofing is not one of the industries that you think of when you think of industries leading the green building movement," said Chapman, sustainability specialist Duro-Last Inc. She outlined the company's "Recycle Your Roof" effort at the Vinyltec conference in Akron.
Sustainability has been part of Duro-Last's corporate culture for more than 20 years, since founder John Burt came up with the idea of turning old PVC roofs and plant manufacturing scrap into flooring, walkway pads and concrete expansion joints.
Duro-Last, based in Saginaw, Mich., employs 700. A sister company extrudes the vinyl membranes, so the firm can reclaim its post-industrial scrap in-house.
And there isn't much scrap at Duro-Last operations or from roof installations because the company custom-fabricates PVC roofing for each specific building, using factory-welded seams. Chapman said that eliminates welding on-site — potentially by a worker who might be having a bad day — and means no trim scrap at the job site.
But while post-industrial scrap is relatively easy to reprocess, the post-consumer part is more difficult, Chapman said at Vinyltec, Oct. 2-3, organized by the Society of Plastics Engineers' vinyl plastics division and Akron section.
In Recycle Your Roof, the contractor who removes the old roofing membrane takes it back to one of the Duro-Last plant locations. That sounds simple, and Chapman said Duro-Last has recycled 200,000 pounds of roofing since Recycle Your Roof started.
But Chapman said it's not that easy to get roofers to buy into the program. It can take a little more labor to remove the roof and roll it up, instead of just scrapping it, but the contractor saves disposal fees and gets good publicity, she said.
"It's a good program so far, but really one of the challenging aspects is getting roofers to do it," Chapman said. "Roofers are very used to their ways. They like what they do. And it's the more progressive ones that are very business-minded and marketing savvy that really like to participate in this program."
A Duro-Last sister company recycles the post-industrial scrap and post-consumer roofs.
In the United States today, most PVC roofing goes to the landfill, she said. PVC roofing membrane typically lasts 30 years. It's made of two layers of PVC film sandwiching an inner layer of polyester fibers, or sometimes glass fibers. Chapman said the traditional way to recycle the roofing membrane is to granulate it to a very fine level and separate out the inner fibers, using a dedusting system. You end up with PVC.
Chapman said other nontraditional recycling methods are in the works, including chemical recycling to make new plastic material.
The goal of Recycle Your Roof is meeting the circular economy — and turning the old roofs back into new roofing membranes, she said.
Members of the European roofing membrane industry work together on a program called RoofCollect that collects and recycles 72 percent of the PVC from old roofs there, Chapman said.
She said that collective approach in Europe works well, but U.S. roofing companies are more individualized and very competitive, and that's one reason there isn't much post-consumer roofing recycled. Post-industrial is much more common.
But Chapman said it's a worthy goal: Recycle a superdurable building product, decades after it was installed, and turn it back into new roofing.