Ohio is big in the vinyl industry.
According to pre-COVID data, Ohio had more vinyl processors — more than 200 — than almost any other state, said Domenic DeCaria, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs at the Vinyl Institute in Washington, D.C. The region has a number of large companies in materials more generally, like Geon Performance Solutions and Lubrizol Corp., and some large recycling companies like Return Polymers. And Akron and Cleveland have long been known as a "hub" for plastics, he said. There's academic support in this space in the region, on top of the industrial knowledge.
"There's just a nice, core base of people that know how to do this stuff," DeCaria said.
That makes the region the right spot for a new initiative: the Northeast Ohio Vinyl Siding Recycling Coalition.
The coalition is a pilot of the Vinyl Siding Institute, a Virginia-based trade association. Vinyl siding is a product that doesn't produce a lot of excess waste, said institute Vice President Matthew Dobson, but it can be easily ground up and turned into new products.
The coalition is made up of recyclers and collection sites, Dobson said, but also companies like contractors and manufacturers interested in raising awareness of the availability of vinyl siding recycling.
One of the members, Return Polymers in Ashland, has been doing this work for decades. The company grinds or pulverizes PVC products, turning them into a raw material for new products. And since the company's acquisition by Azek Co. in early 2020, it even offers its own end products using that recycled material.
A lot of people don't realize vinyl can be recycled, said David Foell, Return Polymers president. It's often excluded from curbside recycling programs. But that doesn't mean it's difficult to recycle; it just means different types of plastics contaminate one another, he said. They have to be processed separately. Efforts like the coalition will help to raise that awareness.
"It's doing the right thing," he said. "It's finding a way to divert materials from landfills to an end-use application that's not a short-term use."
David Montante, business development manager at remodeling contractor Mack and Sons Service and Supply and Vinyl Siding Recycling, said he thinks people don't realize that so much vinyl material is going into landfills, when it could instead be getting reused to create products such as low-cost vinyl flooring.
Mack and Sons saw a need in the market about five years ago. Dumpster costs were high, Montante said. And after the company started looking into it, they learned one of their waste products, vinyl, doesn't degrade once it's in a landfill. They wanted to find another way — a less expensive, less time-consuming way.
The company started Vinyl Siding Recycling, a free, 24/7 drop-off facility in Oberlin, Ohio. Vinyl Siding Recycling, which takes the material it collects to a local siding manufacturer, is another member of the coalition.
The coalition, which launched in September, is still in its early days.
Dobson didn't yet want to commit to the idea of starting similar programs elsewhere, saying the pilot's current goal is to help the institute "learn and understand."
The localized approach of the coalition — which gives participants an easy way to talk to each other, work out logistics and identify gaps — is key, said DeCaria of the Vinyl Institute.
Additionally, DeCaria said, Northeast Ohio's housing stock is a little on the older side, making it ripe for the kind of renovations that generate the vinyl siding waste the coalition is looking to recycle.
"I feel like right now is the right time," DeCaria said. "So there's some momentum around this idea that, yes, we can do this. We need to do this. The industry needs to think beyond some of the barriers that have always inhibited the growth of recycling in the past."
Ultimately, DeCaria, who is also head of the recycling task force at the Vinyl Institute's Vinyl Sustainability Council, views the coalition's efforts as bigger than vinyl siding.
It's about creating "momentum" around doing a better job of sorting and reusing all kinds of materials, he said.