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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.”

Monday, 03 December 2018 23:47

The recyclability of PVC packaging in Australia

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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.