PVC’s versatility and sustainability in construction applications is amply illustrated by TechBoard, an innovative product developed by Vinyl Council of Australia member Tech Plas Extrusions Pty Ltd.
A specialist in custom complex extrusions, New South Wales-based Tech Plas was one of the first signatories to the Council’s PVC Stewardship Program established 15 years ago. One of the Program’s commitments is to apply life cycle thinking to the development of new products.
Five years of intensive research and development has gone into TechBoard, a revolutionary new plank designed to last longer and provide much lower life-cycle costs than timber-based planks, with major environmental and economic benefits in the scaffolding and access industries.
As Andrew Swann, Tech Plas Business Development and Sales Manager, puts it: “We have optimised both profile geometry and material choice to produce a long-lasting, lightweight, recyclable, chemically-inert and customisable product that is an ideal timber alternative.”
Manufactured with a robust hexagonally-reinforced structure, TechBoards are designed to last so they will not swell, are impervious to weather and water, will not corrode and are non-contaminable. Because they won’t degrade over time, Andrew says, maintenance and storage issues and associated costs are significantly reduced.
The company says they are easier and safer to handle, offering weight savings of up to 40% per plank. Their weather-resistance makes maintenance and storage significantly easier by removing the costly requirements for undercover storage and drying.
Within the Australian and New Zealand scaffold industry the use of timber LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber) boards is commonplace despite being utilised in environments to which they are not compatible, says Andrew. This leads to nearly 1 million m3 of damaged boards going to waste annually and significantly reduced longevity.
“This is a staggering amount of waste that led us to create our own industry-specific solution with sound environmental credentials.” continues Andrew, “However, introducing a new product for a previously-unexplored market meant we had to overcome some challenges.”
Gaining market entry and acceptance required close industry collaboration – not least in ensuring that TechBoard meets all relevant ANZ and international standards, including AS/NZS 1577:2013.
Industry partnerships, including end users, contractors and specifiers, were crucial in gaining acceptance, such as in the water and wastewater treatment sectors. “Once they’d used TechBoard, they loved it,” says Andrew. Further refinement work followed and Tech Plas developed a number of accessories for the internationally-patented 230mm x 40mm TechBoard. These include safety ramps to prevent trip hazards, plank joiners, end caps and conductive accessories to mitigate static build-up.
TechBoard has applications well beyond the scaffolding and access industry uses, such as retaining walls, noise barriers on freeways, boardwalks and pedestrian access – even planking on submarines.
Andrew added: “We’re proud of TechBoard’s lifecycle savings. Capable of lasting five years, being made from PVC means that it can be readily recycled at end-of-life and used to make new TechBoards.
“After five years of use, we aim to recover the used boards for recycling, thereby reducing environmental impact. Our intended recycling process leaves a clear carbon trail for sustainability.”
Vinyl has long been used to meet specific packaging needs due to its excellent transparency and high clarity, an ability to seal and sterilize and because it allows gas transmission important for some food products.
Vinyl (or polyvinyl chloride) packaging is used for clear, handled bottles such as for cordials; clamshells to protect fruit and vegetables, cakes and other food stuffs; and as film for wrapping and protecting fresh meat, dairy and deli products. It is also used as secure blister packaging for products such as batteries, razors, toys, pharmaceuticals and an array of consumer products, and as packaging for the safe delivery of medical products like intravenous fluids.
However, vinyl packaging is a very small proportion (reliable data is hard to come by but it may be 2-4 percent) of all packaging materials (industrial and consumer) used in Australia . Most vinyl is used in long life products, particularly building products including potable water pipe, sewer pipe, conduit, cabling, flooring and window profiles.
Rigid vinyl packaging
Rigid vinyl packaging such as bottles and thermoformed packaging is recyclable when collected from kerbside and sorted from other polymers and packaging materials. Most councils around Australia have included these products in collections for many years.
Post-consumer vinyl bottles are separated out where manual sorting systems operate at Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and sent to recyclers. The Vinyl Cycle bottle recycling program that operated for many years until 2012 demonstrated that a recycling rate of over 50% was achieved when vinyl bottles were manually sorted for recycling; however, today very few MRFs operate such systems.
Optical sorting technologies exist based on Near InfraRed cameras that can identify polymer types, including vinyl, and colours (except black). These achieve high purity streams, generally 93-96% for most polymers . In Australia, however, use of such technologies has largely been limited to identifying only the dominant two packaging polymers – PET and HDPE – despite local demand for recovered vinyl for remanufacturing within Australia.
Post-industrial rigid vinyl packaging material such as thermoforming scrap, is sought after as a recyclate for use in other products.
Flexible vinyl packaging
A successful program operates across Australia’s healthcare sector to collect flexible vinyl used in intravenous (IV) bags. The PVC Recycling in Hospitals scheme operates in over 160 healthcare facilities in Australia and New Zealand and collects approximately 15-20 tonnes a month of flexible vinyl packaging, tubing and oxygen masks. This material is reprocessed locally into new long-life products. The success of the program is in part due to the separation at source of the vinyl products, reducing contamination from other polymers and materials.
Unfortunately, there is little if any collection and recycling of post-consumer films and food wrap, regardless of polymer type. This is due to high contamination from dirt and other non-plastic materials, the mix of polymers used to manufacture films including multilayer mixed polymer films and the risk of films entangling and damaging equipment. Nevertheless, the vinyl film industry in Australia has taken actions to reduce raw material use through down-gauging films and continually seeks ways to reduce the life cycle footprint of these products.
Benefits of sorting and recycling vinyl packaging
Clean, separated vinyl waste is relatively easy to recycle as vinyl is a thermoplastic. Vinyl’s melting point is relatively low which means less energy is required for reprocessing it than compared to other polymers, but this is the reason it is considered a ‘contaminant’ in other polymer streams as it burns at higher temperatures.
There is good reason therefore to implement technologies and systems to separate vinyl early in the kerbside waste sorting process.
Using recycled vinyl in new products replaces the use of virgin vinyl compound and reduces the carbon emissions associated with manufacturing virgin vinyl by about 80-85 percent. This significantly lowers the carbon footprint of new vinyl products.
Local manufacturers of vinyl products have indicated that they have an appetite to increase the use of vinyl recyclate if reliable, continuous sources of recyclate are made available. Signatory companies to the long-established PVC Stewardship Program are publicly committed to use recyclate in the products they supply to the market unless product standards prohibit it. The Council therefore welcomes initiatives by MRFs to separate rigid vinyl packaging and some flexibles for local reprocessing and reuse in Australia.
PVC packaging is recyclable as it is collected by most councils and in the healthcare system, can be sorted into a defined stream, can be reprocessed and used as recyclate in new products manufactured in Australia, and has value.
In 2018, the Victorian state’s Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) provided a $20,000 grant to part fund an investigation into the feasibility of recycling vinyl coated fabrics into roof tiles, one of the product concepts identified in Porject ReMake. The VersrTile project enabled an expert multidisciplinary team led by the Vinyl Council to design and test reprocessing techniques and form prototype roof tiles made from waste billboard skins. The project outcomes included testing the manufactured sample tiles, which found the tiles could resist weathering as required under applicable standards; however, further development is required on the tile prototypes to meet mechanical strength tests required for roof tiles.
A preliminary business case has been developed to understand the financial and production factors that will be required to manufacture these roof tiles economically and to assess their commercially feasibility. The significance of this project is that it identifies a potential reuse of a composite material into a durable, high volume product without the need to separate the polyester fibre from the vinyl.
The Vinyl Council of Australia is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year amid on-going progress in guiding the continuous improvement and sustainable development of the Australian PVC industry.
Founded in 1998, the nation’s peak association for the PVC value chain has made great strides in changing perceptions and advancing the material’s sustainability over the past two decades.
Key achievements include the 2002 launch of the PVC Stewardship Program (PSP) that has been fostering advancements in innovation and sustainability throughout the Australian PVC industry, for both locally-made and imported products and the introduction of the Best Practice PVC third party accreditation scheme for products.
Recognised in rating tools such as Green Star and public and private procurement policies, Best Practice PVC requires strict compliance and has driven change through product global supply chains.
Acknowledged as one of the longest-standing product stewardship programs in Australia with a full life cycle approach, the PSP currently has 47 Signatories representing the majority of the Australian PVC industry. All are committed to driving positive measurable change in five key areas, such as transparency, resource efficiency and safe and sustainable use of additives.
The information and data collected through the program has helped inform industry and stakeholders, influence product design and ensure the Australian PVC industry continues to innovate.
Industry successes include the most stringent manufacturing benchmarks for raw material suppliers; a 98% reduction in lead additive use by Signatories since 2002; compliance by 90% of Signatories with the PVC Industry Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Charter; growing use of PVC recyclate in products placed in the market; research and development of innovative solutions for recycling PVC coated fabrics; and initiation of the recycling of medical devices. As the program evolves year to year, industry is driven to improve performance and reduce the environmental footprint of vinyl products along the entire value chain.
The Council’s thriving PVC Recycling in Hospitals program now operates in 160 hospitals throughout Australia and New Zealand, recycling more than 200 tonnes of high-grade PVC waste each year into new goods, such as playground mats and garden hose. Design of new product applications for the recyclate is currently being explored.
Vinyl Council Chief Executive Sophi MacMillan comments: “We have made major progress over the past two decades with some significant breakthroughs, both in how PVC is perceived and how it is increasingly being specified for sustainable applications. Through our ‘whole of life approach’ to PVC stewardship, today’s vinyl is a sound material choice.”
We have achieved this as an industry, continues Sophi, by ‘working together through a public voluntary commitment to address key aspects of the product life cycle based on credible science and life cycle assessments’.
As a low carbon and durable plastic, PVC provides solutions through its track record of stewardship, alignment with several global Sustainability Development Goals and its potential for circularity. Each tonne of recycled PVC will replace about one tonne of virgin PVC compound in new products, consuming 80% less energy and reducing carbon emissions.
In providing the platform to share information and engage with stakeholders, the PSP has developed partnerships and collaborations that are driving change through the industry and better understanding of supply chains for vinyl products placed on the Australian market.
Sophi adds: “In our 20th anniversary year, we are immensely proud of how far we’ve come on our continuous and evolving journey towards a circular economy for vinyl.”
Windows play a vital role in regulating temperatures of buildings and their overall energy efficiency, whatever the climate. Energy efficiency is not just about preserving heating in homes in winter; it is also about minimising and preserving artificial cooling in summer.
Today, high-performance windows are increasingly gaining acceptance in Australia as rising energy costs are prompting homeowners to consider the role of windows in their homes.
uPVC (unplasticised PVC, or vinyl-framed) double-glazed windows not only perform well in keeping cold out of a building and heat within; they also work to keep summer heat out and the cool air inside.
Well-established in Europe, the UK and US, where they are the dominant window type used, a key benefit of uPVC high performance windows is their ability to balance optimisation of heating and cooling loads with consumers’ desire for greater natural light.
The excellent thermal insulation of the uPVC frames combined with insulated glass units and airtight sealing mean less energy is needed to maintain an ambient temperature within the home, which is reflected in cost savings, lower energy bills and improved levels of comfort. This makes them an ideal energy-efficient and cost-effective solution for Australian homes where homeowners like large areas of glazing and plenty of natural light.
Research by the CRC for Low Carbon Living reveals that 87% of consumers want a home filled with natural light and 85% want a cool home in summer and a warm home in winter. According to uPVC Window Alliance members, higher-performing window systems (where the U value of the window is less than 2.5W/m2K) are now available in Australia that outperform basic double-glazed windows for a similar cost.
Research conducted by Climate Works for a report, Built to Perform: An Industry Led Pathway to a Zero Carbon ready Building Code, published by the Australian Built Environment Council (ASBEC) in July found that double-glazed windows are one of a number of simple measures to improve building performance that would be cost-effective if undertaken today to meet proposed stronger energy efficiency requirements of Australia’s National Construction Code. The analysis found that upfront costs of such measures would be more than offset by the energy bill savings, reduced spend on heating, cooling and ventilation equipment, and electricity network savings.
Modern uPVC windows are made from a rigid and dense material that is used worldwide for a variety of building products. The multiple chamber construction of uPVC windows gives them excellent thermal performance and strength, plus the frames’ low conductivity limits the transfer of heat and cold. uPVC is roughly 1,000 times less conductive of heat than aluminium. Thermal performance is further enhanced by a minimum 12mm air gap in the insulated glazing unit commonly found in uPVC windows.
Advances in PVC formulations, including a ‘tropical’ version for extreme heat and UV, have improved resistance to environmental conditions, such as heavy rain, warping, cracking or splitting, making uPVC windows a sound choice for Australian and New Zealand climates. With high resistance to weathering, salt-corrosion and termites, low-maintenance uPVC windows are also an excellent choice for coastal locations.
Today’s uPVC windows not only perform well, they look good, are available in a range of colours and offer superior security, thanks to advances in hardware and locking systems. Commonly used in Europe, the tilt-and-turn opening system provides great versatility for ventilating the house and ease of cleaning from inside the building. For example, in tilt mode, the top of the window tilts forward into the room venting hot air outside while preventing cool air nearer the floor from escaping. The tilt function allows ventilation at night with the peace of mind of security.
Moving the handle into the next position enables the window to be fully opened like a hinge door, allowing for cleaning or additional ventilation. Also available is a tilt-and-slide system with similar sealing properties to the tilt-and-turn versions, but better than the standard sliding windows, which rely on brush seals (which keep bugs out, but not air).
Quality uPVC windows have a lifespan comparable to that of aluminium and are recyclable at end-of-life. With their in-built thermal-efficiency, they are up to 40 per cent more efficient than a standard aluminium window, making them a worthwhile investment in today’s energy-conscious world.
With more window companies offering uPVC windows in Australia amid a growing market, they are becoming an affordable and sustainable fenestration choice for 21st century living.
The Vinyl Council of Australia welcomes the findings of a new report that shows stronger energy standards in Australia’s National Construction Code can be delivered cost-effectively for new home owners and will help Australia cut its carbon emissions.
The report, Built to Perform: An Industry Led Pathway to a Zero Carbon Ready Building Code, prepared by the Australian SustainableBuilt Environment Council (ASBEC) and ClimateWorks Australia, analysed and identified measures that would be cost-effective in improving the energy efficiency of buildings relative to the upfront investment cost.
By 2030, improvement in Code energy requirements could deliver between 19 and 25 per cent of the energy savings required to achieve net zero energy in new residential buildings through simple, cost-effective measures such as improved air tightness, double glazed windows, increased insulation, outdoor shading, and more efficient air conditioners, hot water systems and lighting.
Although there are upfront costs associated with these improvements, they are small (less than 4% for detached homes) relative to overall construction costs and land prices while providing ongoing benefit for occupants.
“Australia lags other regions around the world in terms of building energy efficient homes” Vinyl Council Chief Executive, Sophi MacMillan said. “All of the buildings being built today will still be in use in 2050, potentially locking in poor performance at a time when much of the world will be at or near net zero emissions if current target projections are met.”
“We are particularly concerned by the continued use of very low performing windows in a country that loves large windows in its houses. Built to Perform is important in showing there are cost effective measures, such as double glazing, we can – and should – be implementing from today.”
The Vinyl Council also supports the proposition in the report that targets and a forward trajectory are set for future Building Code updates from 2019, with a clear and transparent process for implementation and adjustment over time.
“This approach would provide the certainty industries like ours – supplying thermally efficient uPVC windows and other building products - need to innovate and invest, so as to supply the economic products that higher performing buildings need”, Sophi explained. “This will support a rapid and least-cost, national transition to net zero.”
“Built to Perform clearly shows that cost-effective investment can be made from today to deliver long term improvements in residential energy demand and greenhouse emissions.”
Built to Perform provides industry-based evidence that the Code could, between now and 2050, reduce energy bills by up to $27 billion, cut energy network costs by up to $7 billion and deliver at least 78 million tonnes of cumulative emissions savings.
About the report
Built to Perform: An Industry Led Pathway to a Zero Carbon Ready Building Code presents the results of the Building Code Energy Performance Trajectory project, which quantifies the opportunities of establishing a clear, consistent and ambitious long-term plan for the energy requirements in the National Construction Code. The report modelled eight different building types across four climate zones. It investigated the costs and benefits to society of simple energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy opportunities. The analysis assessed upfront costs associated with improvements, as well as benefits from reduced energy bills, downsizing of heating, cooling and ventilation equipment, and reduced network costs.
This report was produced with the generous support of the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living, the RACV and dozens of building industry and government partners. The project has been delivered in partnership with CSIRO, Energy Action (EA), Strategy. Policy. Research. (SPR) and the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at the University of Wollongong (UOW).
The Vinyl Council of Australia is a member of ASBEC and one of the report’s industry partners.