Date posted: 26th February 2018
Recycled uPVC Windows and Plastic
One million plastic bottles are bought globally every minute, that’s 20,000 per second or 480 billion a year - of which fewer than half are recycled. Those that aren’t recycled will sit in landfill or bob around in our oceans for the next 450 years until they eventually biodegrade. It neatly sums up the problem of plastic – or perhaps more accurately our attitude towards it. Plastic bottles, plastic bags – they’re seen as disposable items. Plastics aren’t inherently bad, it’s how we use them.
So what about PVC-U windows? Are they bad for the environment too? Well the answer is ‘yes’, if they’re just thrown into landfill at the end of life, but there are alternatives to landfill.
What are PVC-U windows made from?
PVC-U is so well suited for use as a building material because of the way that it behaves. PVC-U is short for Polyvinyl Chloride un-Plasticised. You’ll also see it written as u-PVC. The un-plasticised reference is at the front but it’s exactly the same thing.
It’s made from just two main elements – salt and oil. Unlike other plastics, it doesn’t use plasticisers, which are added to other plastics to make them flexible. This means that it remains rigid and low maintenance and light-weight, ideally suited to use in construction products.
FACT #1: PVC-U can be recycled up to 10 times without impacting on its structural integrity
In common with many other plastics, PVC-U is highly recyclable. In fact according to the Building Research Establishment (BRE), PVC-U can be recyclable 10 times or more, without impacting on material performance.
The BRE also gives PVC-U window frames a reference service life (how long on average that they’re installed for) of 35-40 years.
Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that each individual PVC-U window can be recycled up to 10 times without losing performance giving it a total useful life based on its reference service life of up to 400 years.
This means that it became the first material of any type to be independently awarded an A+ material sustainability rating by the Building Research Establishment.
The challenge is less in the recycling of PVC-U, much more in common with other plastics in stopping people from throwing it away.
FACT #2: PVC-U is being recycled
The PVC-U window industry has been working for the past decade or more to bring in new controls and processes to intercept end of life PVC-U building products before they go into landfill.
According to the latest figures from Recovinyl, the industry’s recycling scheme, more than 120,392 tonnes of waste PVC-U was recovered and recycled in 2016. That’s a 12% jump on the previous year - and the equivalent of more than five million window frames.
One of the major advantages of PVC-U as a recycled material is that in most cases, it’s that as a low maintenance material it isn’t contaminated with paints. This makes recycling simpler and unlike timber which is painted and stained, can go through a ‘closed-loop’ recycling process bringing end of life material back into use in new products.
KJM as a business is committed to minimising the impact of our operations across the board. We recycle as much waste material as we can, aluminium, steel reinforcements, waste wood – and old PVC-U window frames.
FACT #3: PVC-U windows deliver the fastest payback of any window material type
According to the Energy Saving Trust after energy leaking roof space and walls, windows account for around 20% of the heat lost from your home. It means that if you haven’t already done so, replacing them could pay back dividends in the long run and at the same time contribute to a significant reduction in the carbon footprint of your home.
The exact savings will be dependent on your property and the windows previously installed but the Energy Saving Trust suggests that Energy efficient windows and doors can cut heat loss by up to 75 per cent.
And lower cost and more thermally efficient than timber and aluminium windows, u-PVC windows offer the fastest potential payback in savings on heating bills of any window frame material. Window profiles features a series of highly energy efficient chambers creating a ‘honeycomb’ effect. These create multiple thermal barriers between the cold air and surfaces outside your home and the warm air inside.
According to the Glass and Glazing Federations Energy Savings Calculator on an average detached house, with old single glazed windows, replacement with new A++ energy efficient PVC-U triple-glazed windows, could save you as much as £813.44p per year.*
FACT #4: New energy efficient PVC-U windows will cut the carbon footprint of your home
Carbon emissions from UK homes jump ahead of transport and industrial production for the undesirable CO2 emissions ‘top slot’. Of the typical five tonnes of carbon pumped out by the average UK home every year, a whopping 85% is generated as a by-product of heating water and the spaces inside. Compare this to the one tonne of carbon generated by a properly insulated home and the benefits are clear.
It’s also a strategic priority for the UK which needs to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. That means retro-fitting approximately 25million homes by the mid-point of this century.
Applying the same model as highlighted above as the owner of a detached home you could save 2.67 tonnes of carbon emissions per year and 0.73 tonnes of carbon usage by switching to new A++ energy efficient PVC-U triple-glazed windows
FACT #5: You can buy a recycled PVC-U system it’s called Veka Infinity
The VEKA Infinity System combines the highest levels of technology and style that you would expect from a VEKA window system, coupled with an environmental conscience. Windows manufactured from Infinity profiles contain up to 80% recycled content, dependent on the window style. The Veka Infinity system is designed in such a way that all recycled material is totally encapsulated within a virgin raw material, ensuring the perfect surface finish, with the same guarantees. From the environments point of view it is the perfect recycled PVC window system.
FACT #6: White is only the starting point
Although we’re straying away from the environmental argument for PVC-U, its worth addressing another criticism often fired at PVC-U products – that their design is ‘unsympathetic’. This is based on a strictly historical understanding of PVC-U products, which are now available in a wide range of low maintenance colour and woodgrain finishes and styles.
This includes options developed specifically for period properties including Residence 9 which became the first low maintenance PVC-U window manufactured with a flush sash. It offers the opportunity to directly replicate traditional 19th century window design in a heritage window – but the best part is, it’s virtually maintenance free.
It gets its name from its 9 energy efficient chambers. These deliver superior thermal and acoustic performance, also delivering far greater strength and improved security. This means it achieves u-values as low as 0.8 W/m2K as a triple-glazed window.
*Modelled on steel single glazed windows, electric heating of home
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