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PVC recycling by application

Profiles and pipes

Profiles are the largest application for PVC, representing about 1.4 million tons of resin sales annually.

5400 t of window profiles and 900 t of other profiles were recycled in 2004 as a part of the schemes funded by Vinyl 2010. The total quantity of profiles recycled in 2005 is close to 0 kt. Pipes are the second largest application for PVC, and approximately 1.3 million tons of PVC pipes (including fittings) are manufactured annually in Western Europe. This amount represents roughly one-fourth of the annual PVC consumption. About 9 kt of waste pipes were recycled in 2005 as part of the schemes funded by Vinyl 2010, mainly back to pipes.

Collection and recycling schemes were initially created to deal with waste streams from specific applications, mirroring the way the converting industry is organised. This is now changing, where appropriate to enhance efficiency.

The collection schemes for waste pipes and window profiles are increasingly working together. Integration is achieved in Denmark and France, progressing in Belgium, Germany and other countries.

Schemes for pipes now cover all EU 15 countries, except Greece and Ireland. Collection of window profiles is done in all EU 15 countries, except Greece, Spain and Portugal.

The demand for recyclate in these applications is exceeding supply, allowing further development, all the more as available waste is below expectations. The main reasons appear to be longer than anticipated life time for pipes and re-use of still functional windows being replaced by better ones. Export of waste - therefore decreasing availability in Europe - also has an impact.

Flexible PVC construction materials

Until 2003, recycling of roofing membranes was essentially focused on the German market. The waste was processed in a dedicated cryogenic plant owned by several membrane manufacturers. A new collection scheme was launched in Germany in 2003 and was extended to the Benelux, Austria and France in 2004. The cryogenic plant was closed down in December 2004. Recycling is now scheduled in the Ferrara Vinyloop plant and in a German conventional mechanical recycling company. As for roofing membranes, flooring recycling started several years ago in Germany, through a dedicated plant. The collection schemes were extended to Austria and Switzerland. Recent efforts targeted Belgium and France. A significant R&D programme involving flooring manufacturers as well as universities focused on high value applications for flooring recyclate produced in the Vinyloop© Ferrara plant. Application by coating as well as calendering has been successfully demonstrated.

A new collection scheme was launched in Germany in 2003 and was extended to the Benelux, Austria and France in 2004

Melt filtration was also investigated, but proved to be economically unattractive. However, production of drainage sheets by conventional mechanical recycling has been demonstrated.The amounts recycled by the schemes set up by Vinyl 2010 are still small (about 800 t of roofing membranes and 1600 t of flooring in 2005), but are increasing rapidly. Besides, some additional recycling takes place outside these schemes. An evaluation is in progress.

Coated fabrics

Recycling of coated fabrics is especially challenging because of their composite nature. Waste coated fabrics have been collected in France since 2000 . A separate scheme started in Germany at the end of 2004. Development of a specific recycling technology called Texyloop®, based on the Vinyloop© process, progressed to the point where a 1 – kt/a pilot plant can be considered. Conventional mechanical recycling by a German company into tarpaulins and automotive parts has been initiated mid- 2004. The technology involves the mechanical shredding, partial separation of polyester fibres and compacting (or agglomeration) of post-consumer waste fabrics A study on the availability of artificial leather waste identified furniture and luggage as the only ones having some potential, but volumes are generally low and the various types of waste cannot be recycled together.

Cables – Vinyloop© process

The Vinyloop© process developed by Solvay is a mechanical recycling process using an organic solvent to separate the PVC compound from other types of plastic waste or from the other materials in a PVC composite.

A special solvent is used to dissolve the PVC waste selectively in a closed loop batch process under pressure. The impurities are separated in a filter from the PVC solution; all the constituents of the PVC waste such as PVC, plasticiser, filler, stabiliser and pigments are present in the filtrated liquid. The secondary material is washed to eliminate virtually the entire dissolved PVC compound and afterwards stripped with steam to recover all the solvent. The liquid is recovered in a precipitation tank, where steam is injected to completely evaporate the solvent.

All the components of the original PVC formulation are recovered in the form of an aqueous suspension. The suspension is split by a decanter into cake and process water. The humid PVC compound is dried with hot air and is then ready to be reused. The solvent is regenerated by a multi-step condensation and separation process, and is entirely recycled.

A first Vinyloop© plant, located in Ferrara (Italy), was built in 2001 to treat post-consumer PVC cable waste. In 2005, about 4000 t of waste PVC, mainly cables, were recycled in the Vinyloop Ferrara plant. Besides cables, trials are going on to demonstrate the feasibility of recycling other types of waste PVC.

In January 2005, licensing agreements were signed for a plant located in Chiba (south west of Tokyo). The mechanical completion is scheduled for March 2006. The plant will produce 18.000 t of regenerated PVC compound from a total of more than 20.000 of wastes: cable waste, agricultural sheets from greenhouses and wall paper.

Feedstock recycling

Plastic contributing to steel manufacturing - feedstock for blast furnaces By this recycling technology, coke, which works as a reducing agent to remove oxygen from iron ore in steel manufacturing, can be partially replaced with plastic waste. From the environmental standpoint, various advantages are expected from this technology including saving coke and CO2 reduction. The Japanese PVC industry conducted research and development of blast furnace feedstock technologies for plastic waste (including PVC waste), jointly with NKK (the present JFE Steel). Following pilot tests in 1998 and operations at a demonstration plant in 2000, the preparation for commercial operation is now under way at JFE Steel since fiscal 2003.

In Europe, a process called REDOP® was developed to recycle mixed plastic waste into blast furnaces. A mixed plastics/paper fraction is recovered from municipal waste and furtherseparated into a plastics and a paper fraction. The former is de-halogenated by a new process patented by DSM Research: A slurry of waste in water is heated in a stirred reactor. The released HCl is neutralised by addition of a diluted water-soluble base. The non-halogenated plastics melt into droplets, the size of which is determined by the stirring and by the traces of cellulose still present. Upon cooling, the plastic droplets solidify, yielding mixed plastic (MP) granules having size and characteristics well suited to pneumatic injection in the blast

furnace. The chlorine content is comparable to coal and the calorific value is at least equivalent. One ton of REDOP pellets has been successfully produced in 2004 and tried out in a commercial blast furnace in the Netherlands.

Generating new chemical raw materials or energy – gasification

By thermal cracking at high temperatures, PVC waste can be recycled into gas components such as hydrogen chloride, hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which can be put to use. The Japanese PVC industry has been working to demonstrate gasification technologies to treat various plastic wastes including PVC, jointly with Nippon Steel, Daicel and Sumitomo Metals. Hydrogen and carbon monoxide derived from this process can be used for ammonia and methanol production,or as fuel gas for power plants. Hydrogen chloride is widely used as chemical raw material or as industrial chemicals. Also, Ube Industries/Ebara Corporation (EUP) and Showa Denko are operating plants with pressurized two-stage gasification furnaces to meet the requirements of the Container and Packaging Recycling Law.

Reuse of hydrogen chloride - as raw material for VCM

PVC contains about 57% chlorine. The Japanese PVC industry is conducting R&D to reuse in VCM production the hydrogen chloride derived from either thermal cracking or gasification of plastic wastes including PVC. A gas purification unit is added either to the de-HCl facilities or the gasification facilities in order to obtain high purity hydrogen chloride gas from the collected hydrochloric acid, for use in the VCM manufacturing process. This can genuinely be called a resources recycling technology.

The company Dow has been operating since 1999 a commercial feedstock recycling plant at its site near Leipzig (Germany). Chlorine containing waste, including PVC, is treated in a rotating furnace, yielding hydrochloric acid which is re-used on site for production of vinyl chloride monomer. 1000 tonnes of PVC waste were successfully processed in 2002-2003.

Recycling of plastic residential construction and demolition waste

Europe Vinyl 2010 and APME/PlasticsEurope have been working since 2001 with the Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling (ACRR) to improve the recycling of plastic waste collected by local authorities. Pilot trials in Spain and Portugal confirmed that demolition projects of old buildings yield only very small amounts of heavily contaminated plastic waste. On the other hand, the trade and SME sector as well as packaging from construction sites have proven to be a significant source of plastic waste. A “Best practices” guide for plastics waste management by local authorities was issued in February 2004 in English, French, German and Spanish .

A free order form can be accessed under: www.acrr.org/publications/techreports

A follow-up project to research and promote the collection and recycling of plastic waste from the construction and demolition sector, named APPRICOD, was launched in December 2003 and due to be completed mid-2006. It is partly funded by the EU LIFE programme and Vinyl 2010 is providing technical assistance. In 2005, about 20 pilot trials were conducted covering construction, renovation and demolition activities in four European regions.

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