Sustainability & Recycling



PVCu is the world’s most researched polymer, with numerous life cycle studies conducted in the UK and the EU indicating the material is as sustainable as any other option. The major ingredient of PVCu is common salt – an abundant natural resource.

We believe that polymer products have a valuable part to play in sustainable development. Most polymer building products have a long life expectancy and are readily recycled at the end of their life into new products.

The European PVC industry is working towards two key aims:

- Improving quality of life and adding value to society through PVCu products and innovations that assist with sustainable economic growth.

- Introducing new practices that protect the integrity and diversity of the environment based on the principles of sustainable development.1

One of the world’s oldest plastics, it has evolved since the 1940s to become a universally used, cost effective, adaptable, safe and environmentally efficient material. Effectively, salt and oil derivatives are combined to produce a plastic material, which is specified for a broad range of applications across various market sectors.2

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a versatile and safe material for the modern world. Its unique properties make PVCu the material of choice in many applications, including construction, transportation, electronics and health.3

1Voluntary commitments Sustainable Development from the PVC industry

2Windows – A Transparent Case for PVC (BPF)

3Fact Sheet – Euro Chlor

Myths of PVCu

Myths of PVCu

The Myth - PVCu is not sustainable as it is made of chlorine

The Truth - PVCu is the world’s most researched polymer, with numerous life cycle studies conducted in the UK and the EU indicating the material is as sustainable as any other option. The major ingredient of PVC is common salt – an abundant natural resource - 50 quadrillion tonnes of salt in the worlds seas!1

The Myth - PVCu production operations are “Dioxin Factories”

The Truth - The industry is strictly regulated. Its very low contribution to dioxin levels is confirmed by recent inventories of dioxin sources in the UK. The highest dioxin concentration allowed from industrial discharge is 0.1ng/cubic metre omission. UK studies suggest that as much as 14% of the total UK annual emissions can be attributed to Bonfire Night celebrations on November 5th. ‘A Review of Dioxin Emission in the UK’, published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) in 1995 concurs that iron, steel and non-ferrous metals production are seen as the dominant contributors. According to the report, more dioxins are released to the atmosphere through sources involving the combustion of wood than are produced by the entire halogenated chemicals industry.2

The Myth - PVCu production is extremely energy intensive

The Truth - Energy used in manufacture is low compared to other materials e.g. aluminium. The manufacture of one cubic decimetre of PVCu requires only two kilograms of mineral oil, for a cubic decimetre of steel, as much as five kilos of oil and for a cubic decimetre of aluminium, even as much as 15 kilograms of oil. Even in comparison with other polymers, PVCu comes out well, necessitating on average about half as much oil in production. Furthermore, the oil contained in PVCu products can be used to generate energy in incineration plants, even after several decades.

The Myth - PVCu is the “poison plastic”

The Truth -

  • Sept 06 Epidemiological study conducted by Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) workers exposed to PVCu dust
  • Death rate lower in PVCu workers than general population
  • No evidence that PVCu dust causes lung cancer or heart disease

The Myth - PVCu is dangerous in accidental fires

The Truth -

  • - PVCu is difficult to ignite
  • If ignited PVC self extinguishes
  • PVCu will not spread flame on its own
  • Low rate of heat release


PVCu will burn in a fire but if you remove the source of ignition PVCu goes out, which is why, for example, it is mandatory to use it for insulation on all wiring and in a conduit through which wires and electricity pass.3

1 Specifier Briefing - The Open & Shut Case for PVC-U - BPF

2Windows – A Transparent Case for PVC

3 Counterpoint – Patrick Moore and the future of the environment April 06

Recycling of PVCu Windows

Recycling of PVCu Windows

REHAU is committed to minimising the impact of our operations on the environment. We achieved recognition for environmental management with our ISO 14001 certification. Recycling plays a significant part in our processes from running schemes to recycle window waste into new window profiles to a vast array of technical product produced from recycled material. We are currently working with external agencies to audit our processes for the environmental impact.

It is claimed that PVCu is not recyclable. This is simply not true. PVC is an ideal polymer for recycling, unlike many other materials PVCu can be recycled simply by chipping the waste material and extruding into new products.

The European PVC Industry committed to recycle 50% of the collectable available quantities of post-consumer PVCu window waste by 2005. One of the barriers to cost-effective recycling of post use products – regardless of the materials involved – is the ability to retrieve economically meaningful quantities of used products to supply a recycling scheme with its feedstock. In Germany, PVCu windows were commercially introduced some 15 years before they were in the UK. Hence German companies have now developed proven technologies to recycle post-use PVCu windows, which may arise as demolition wastes, for example. In the UK, however, tonnages have been traditionally modest because PVCu products last so long and there simply hasn’t been enough feedstock yet to input effectively into the recovery and recycling processes. As post-use PVCu windows are slowly becoming more available in sufficient quantities, then the European Industry can apply the appropriate technology to recycle them in commercially viable and environmentally beneficial schemes, as part of the Vinyl 2010 Voluntary Commitment.1

The European PVCu industry is working to develop environmentally responsible solutions for managing its products at the end of their lifecycle. A number of recovery options are available before final disposal, with the appropriate mix defined by the most cost-effective and efficient process for each waste stream.

Mechanical Recycling

Mechanical recycling makes sense where sufficient quantities of homogeneous, separated and sorted waste are available. Products such as pipes, roof coverings and window profiles are currently being recycled in this way in a number of EC member states. The PVC industry is seeking to expand these recycling programmes across Europe through a number of activities included within its Voluntary Commitment.

Feedstock Recycling

This is particularly suited to mixed plastics waste. A number of feedstock recycling technologies are currently under development. All are based on the principle of breaking down PVCu into its chemical components, which can then be recovered for re-use within a range of industrial processes to manufacture new products. In the case of a PVC rich feedstock, hydrochloric acid is one of the main components recovered via this method. This can be used as a raw material in the PVC production process.

Incineration with energy recovery

This ensures that the calorific value of oil used in PVCu production is recovered, potentially after many years of efficient service.

Incorporating PVCu waste in controlled municipal incinerators reduces the need for additional fuel. A number of independent studies have demonstrated that adding PVC to an incinerator waste stream in which chlorine is naturally present does not increase the generation of potentially harmful emissions.

PVCu usually represents less than 1% by weight of the material handled in a typical municipal waste incinerator.2

Within REHAU’s controlled process, we recycle 80%of the manufacturing off cuts. This comprises waste generated within our plants from the manufacturing processes of our customers. All this waste material is recycled to make new window profiles. Our continental parent company and partners are even more advanced since they convert 11% of the post consumer waste into new window profiles and other high grade products. In the UK the majority of the installed PVCu windows are still in place and as the volume of recyclable material becomes available the amount of PVCu recycling from the replacement windows will dramatically increase.

1Windows – A Transparent Case for PVC

2Voluntary commitments Sustainable Development from the PVC industry