New life for vinyl

A popular building material used extensively in today’s construction industry is finding new life as recycled product, thanks to a couple of innovative pilot projects and an industry commitment to environmental sustainability. In North America, vinyl siding is employed as the exterior cladding material in about half of residential and light commercial buildings currently being built today. Up until recently, it was considered primarily on its merits as a building material. Now, a Canadian pilot project has spotlighted the material’s position in a more sustainable world. Bringing the Canadian vinyl-siding industry’s environmental stewardship initiatives to the fore, it demonstrates the plastics community’s commitment to environmental responsibility.

Spearheaded by the Vinyl Council of Canada (VCC) and the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC)—both councils of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA)—the project was divided into two parts. The first element involved the recovery and recycling of vinyl siding, windows, and rigid-foamed plastic insulation board from the demolition of 11 residential houses, while the second focused on the collection and recycling of vinyl-siding off-cuts from a new residential construction project involving the building of 32 homes.

Best practices
Among the lessons learned during these projects was the need to remove the vinyl siding in a separate and distinct step in the demolition process, as well as the necessity for discarding the vinyl siding in a 30.6-m3 (40-cy) bin, which is then locked and labeled. Additional time was required to deconstruct for recycling purposes rather than the standard demolition process. Although this deconstruction amounts to additional labor hours, the cost of the recovery can be offset through the revenue generated from the recovered vinyl and through the sale of other materials, such as vinyl windows and foam insulation.

The project involving the recovery of vinyl siding off-cuts from residential new construction proved on-site, collection logistics could be handled easily at the same time as other materials being separated for collection at source. Between five and 10 percent of the vinyl siding used in the residential new construction project ended up as off-cuts. Again, best practices demonstrated the need for vinyl siding to be collected separately and placed in a locked and labeled bin.

Emphasis on the environment and recycling
As a building material, vinyl can make many positive contributions to the environment. It is significantly lighter in weight than most other building materials, which can save energy and fuel during transportation, and possibly generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Vinyl’s ease of maintenance also eliminates the need for paints, stains, or cleaners, which can affect air quality. Additionally, vinyl offers resource conservation benefits through its long life span.

Vinyl also is making great strides in recycling. A 1999 study, Post-Industrial and Post-Consumer Vinyl Reclaim: Material Flow and Uses in North America, commissioned by the Vinyl Institute and the Chlorine Chemistry Division of American Chemistry Council (ACC), found more than 453.6 million kg (1 billion lb) of the material were recovered and recycled into useful products in North America in 1997.1 Of this amount, approximately 8.2 million kg (18 million lb) was post-consumer vinyl diverted from landfills and recycled into second-generation products. Windows and siding represented approximately 16 percent of the tally—they were recycled into new products, such as vinyl pipe.

Other products made from recycled vinyl include:

  • packaging;
  • siding;
  • outdoor parking stops ( i.e. bumpers);
  • industrial flooring; and
  • recycled floorcovering with recycled-content vinyl backing.
    Additionally, recycled vinyl has been used to manufacture checkbook covers, notebook covers, plastic binders, and traffic pylons.

Part of a larger picture
These recent recycling projects reflect the spirit of the VCC’s Environmental Management Program (EMP), a voluntary stewardship initiative launched in 2000. To date, 80 percent of VCC has embraced the program, which translates to approximately 70 percent of the output of the total Canadian vinyl industry. The multi-faceted EMP is an industry commitment to manufacture and distribute vinyl products safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. It calls for protection of the environment and personal health during the manufacture, use, recycling, and disposal of vinyl products, while setting parameters for continuous improvement of performance and reduction of environmental footprints.

The program provides the framework and formalizes a cultural shift on the part of the industry, from compliance with environmental health and environmental safety laws to being more accountable and responsive to society’s evolving concerns. It is designed so this concern for the environment becomes inextricably interwoven into business strategy and decisions.

Based on the vinyl industry’s positive response, EMP is now being launched as a Sustainability Management Program (SMP) across the entire Canadian plastics industry in the form of P3: Preserve, Prevent, and Protect. Developed from the EMP, the P3 SMP is designed to modify corporate and industry culture so the Canadian plastics industry becomes recognized as a willing partner in the quest towards environmental and social sustainability. As with the EMP, the P3 SMP is a voluntary initiative. It will be presented across all segments of the Canadian plastics industry—from the designers through to mold-makers, equipment suppliers, resin suppliers, processors, manufacturers, and recyclers.

“This is a plastics-wide initiative,” explains CPIA president Serge Lavoie. “We are taking a proactive approach to environmental sustainability and are anticipating buy-in from all industry segments. The P3 SMP program has the depth and credibility to stand as an example, not just within the Canadian plastics industry, but to other industries as well.”

About the Authors

Marion Axmith is the director general of the Vinyl Council of Canada (VCC). Cathy Cirko is the vice president of environment and health for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) and the director general of the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC). They can be contacted via e-mail at and respectively.


1 Recycling may not be available in all areas.