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.”
Fostering innovation in recycling and encouraging circularity of materials in the economy is a challenging and complex endeavour, The Vinyl Council has been engaged in such activity for several years, working with members of the vinyl value chain to facilitate solutions to end-of-life PVC products.
Industry Recycling Strategy Manager, Helen Millicer will be presenting on this topic at the 2018 Waste Strategy Summit to be held in Sydney 26-28 June.
On 28 June, in a presentation entitled 'Pilots and Collaborators – taking the ‘squiggle’ out of developing recycling solutions', Helen will share how the Council works to collaborate widely with stakeholders to develop innovative approaches to waste recovery and recycling. As an example, she will outline the challenges and successes of initiating and managing a project to divert a complex end-of-life vinyl product from landfill and find beneficial uses for the raw materials.
Her talk will cover:
• How to implement concrete and effective recycling solutions in organisations
• Understanding the importance of collaboration between industries, organisations and governments in developing recycling strategy
• Learning how to take maximise the chance of success and take the 'squiggle' out of the process
• Some of the exciting possibilities of PVC recycling in Australia
Helen will then participate in a panel session with a number of experts.
The Vinyl Council of Australia wishes to clarify some recent reports about its increasingly successful PVC Recycling in Hospitals program.
Managed by the Vinyl Council of Australia and its member partners in the program – Baxter Healthcare, Aces Medical Waste and Welvic Australia – the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program is a local initiative to redirect high-grade PVC waste from hospitals to local recycling companies to be reprocessed in Australia and sold to Australian and New Zealand manufacturers who produce new, finished products such as garden hoses and outdoor playground matting.
Unlike other commercial and residential programs in Australia and New Zealand, the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program processes and recycles PVC material here in Australia, closing the loop on the manufacture, supply and disposal of PVC products in hospitals.
Thanks to the support and enthusiasm of hospitals, nurses and other healthcare professionals in Australia and New Zealand, the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program has now grown to more than 130 hospitals.
Over the past 12 months almost 200 tonnes of PVC waste from hospitals has been diverted from landfill to recycling.
At a time when residential recycling programs are under enormous pressure due to significant changes to waste management policies in China and its decision to restrict the importation of unsorted waste from other countries, the Vinyl Council confirms its PVC Recycling in Hospitals program remains unaffected by these changes in international waste management. We are proud that our industry program continues to lead by example as a local, innovative waste management and recycling program.
To support the growth of the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program, Welvic made a significant investment in modern recycling equipment last year and has created six new jobs at its Victorian PVC compounding plant.
Baxter Healthcare, a local manufacturer of hospital IV fluids bags, has also invested in education and training in the healthcare sector and provides logistics support.
"We seek to assure the healthcare sector and its staff that the PVC Recycling in Hospitals program is strong and is not affected by China’s ban on unsorted materials. All the medical waste collected under the program has always been, and continues to be, reprocessed and used here or in New Zealand," said Vinyl Council's CEO Sophi MacMillan.
"This example-setting program is growing precisely because it is supported by the local vinyl manufacturing industry and the healthcare sector as product consumers. It is a clear demonstration that circularity within Australia can work."
The Vinyl Council is calling on other industries and manufacturers to support the program and for measures to strengthen the local recycling industry.
"We would like to see greater support and incentives from government to encourage local design and manufacturing of products that use recyclate, to drive demand for recyclate use in Australia,” said Sophi.
“And we’d like policies to encourage procurement of those products that demonstrate they are closing the circularity gap in Australia.”
Advances in technology, sustainability and product stewardship over the last 20 years have helped to transform the PVC sector across Australia and turn vinyl into a ‘sound choice of material’, delegates learnt at PVC AUS 2018: Shaping the Future.
Organised by the Vinyl Council of Australia in its 20th anniversary year, the two-day Sydney event in March shared latest developments in PVC formulations and best practice manufacturing that demonstrate the sector’s commitment to continuous improvement.
The event was supported by headline sponsors Austria-based Greiner Extrusion GmbH, Krauss-Maffei Berstorff from Munich, Germany and Italian machinery manufacturer PlasMec.
Vinyl Council Chief Executive Sophi Macmillan commented: “We are driving continuous improvement through the industry in Australia, for both locally-made and imported products, and this is driving change through PVC product supply chains.
“One of the longest standing product stewardship programs in Australia, our PVC Stewardship Program is leading in many areas. These include its life cycle approach, specific and measurable commitments, transparency, and focus on continuous improvement across the value chain.”
Currently 47 companies are Signatories to the Program, representing the majority of the Australian PVC industry. These companies include manufacturers of PVC resin, additives and end-products, PVC compounders and product importers. Major PVC applications represented in the Program include companies manufacturing or importing packaging, cables, windows, flooring, pipes, formwork, medical products, and profiles.
Among the industry successes Sophi highlighted were: a 99.45% reduction in lead additive use since 2002, the Signatories’ 90% compliance with the PVC Industry Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Charter and several PVC recycling initiatives covering advertising banners, commercial vinyl flooring and medical devices.
In his US perspective on ‘Vinyl for a Purpose-Driven Sustainable Development’, Cristian Barcan, VP Sustainability & Industry Affairs at the Vinyl Institute covered key sustainability progress. This includes a 90% reduction in VCM emissions since 1983 and the elimination of lead and cadmium stabilisers. More than 450,000 tonnes of PVC are recycled annually in the US.
Cristian observed: “Unprecedented challenges lie ahead, we have to change. We don’t have three planets of natural resources; doing more with less is needed to address the needs of the next generation.”
Dr Tracy Wakefield of Plustec Pty Ltd outlined the benefits of uPVC Tilt n Turn windows and how their functionality, in terms of low-maintenance, ease-of-cleaning, security and superior ventilation are the future of windows in Australia – and crucially, suit its climate.
With 85% of windows installed in Australian homes still single-glazed, Gerhard Hoffmann of Greiner Extrusion emphasised how the insect-proof, thermally-efficient, 100% recyclable and corrosion-resistant properties of uPVC windows represent a cost-effective fenestration opportunity.
Advances in formulations were a key topic with Dane Tallen of stabiliser manufacturers Baerlocher exploring how calcium-based solutions could provide cost-effective and sustainable solutions for injection-moulding applications; while Dexter Chan from Arkema discussed the improved performance merits of acrylic impact modifiers in replacing chlorinated polyethylene (CPE) in rigid PVC.
Several updates on technology developments in the Australian PVC sector included a new chemical technology to separate PVC and laminated materials. Dennis Collins from PVC Separation explained how their two-stage chemical and environmentally-friendly process works for a variety of materials recycling, from PVC construction products to shoes, medical and food packaging items.
Dario Soncin of PlasMec covered latest developments in PVC dry blend preparation that can contribute to energy savings. Following him, Christian Birzer of Krauss-Maffei Berstorff revealed interesting advances in plastic processing machinery, including increasing the speed limit for pipe, increasing the production density and flexibility of pelletizing and narrowing the limits for u-PVC sheet extrusion.
Arjen Sevenster, Technical and Environmental Affairs Senior Manager at the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM) highlighted major sustainability progress in the European PVC industry and how the VinylPlus Voluntary Commitment is supporting the Circular Economy objectives for PVC.
Summing up, Sophi concluded: “With a high calibre of speakers and content, our conference attracted nearly 150 people and has been a huge success. It has demonstrated that PVC, as a durable, low-carbon plastic with the potential for circularity, can contribute to shaping a more sustainable future for all.”
Vinyl Council CEO Sophi MacMillan with Senator Kim Carr
Terence Jeyaretnam, EY
Gerhard Hoffmann, Greiner Extrusion