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Building Matters

Vinyl Recycling

Shedding light on the challenge of reusing plastics

Hail damage shown on Calgary homes, Alberta, after a freak storm, moved through the area on Saturday, June 13, 2020. Entire neighborhoods saw vinyl siding shredded, and roofs destroyed as large hail pummeled the homes. Community businesses organized to help. Among them, Kaycan, a local siding manufacturer, agreed to collect damaged material for recycling. Photo courtesy Kaycan.

On June 13, a vicious hailstorm ripped through northeast Calgary, Alberta, shredding siding on homes, smashing windows, destroying roofs, and stripping leaves off trees. For the city of 1.6 million, already in a deep recession, the estimated $1.2 billion in storm damages worsened many families’ already-dire situation. Among several charitable efforts to help the city recover, one manufacturer of vinyl siding offered curbside pickup of damaged material to recycle at its local plant in nearby Carstairs, Alberta. This salvage effort saved homeowners’ landfill fees and reduced the volume of material discarded. 

The experience also inspired Kaycan, one of North America’s largest vinyl siding producers, to kick-start a post-consumer recycling program. They dubbed it “Green SENSE R3V” (for Reclaim, ReGrind, and Reprocess), a moniker that outlines the simplicity of vinyl recycling. Collect the material, mince, and melt it into a new siding. At the Kaycan plant in Carstairs, truckloads of storm-damaged siding went into chippers, normally used to reprocess factory scrap. These machines ground the old siding into triturate—a granular material suitable for melting into siding substrate, which is the material’s structural layer. The surface layer of the siding, known as capstock, requires virgin vinyl to guarantee design performance. The substrate, or structural layer of the siding, represents about 90% of the material thickness. Depending on the color, the substrate may contain up to 100%, post-consumer, recycled content, explained Peter Albis, Vice President of Operations at Kaycan. 

A vinyl siding line. Extruded vinyl materials are often made in layers. Usually, a base layer, or substrate, incorporating regrind (or pre- and post-consumer recycled vinyl), with a finished surface “capstock” of high-quality, virgin polymers designed to give the product fade-resistance and other performance characteristics. Photo by author.

The recycling initiative proved so successful that the company would expand Green SENSE R3V throughout its 14…

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  1. Deleted | | #1


  2. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #2

    The recession plagued City of Calgary recently spent almost $2 billion to buy Maine's second largest electric transmission/distribution company. Good news about siding recycling, though.

  3. ianmci | | #3

    It would have been great if the source of information about what an amazing job the vinyl industry is doing on recycling vinyl, didn't come from the chief mouth piece/lobbyists/spin doctors for that same industry - the Vinyl Institute. I would like to believe it is true, but I can't imagine the Vinyl Institute saying anything negative about their own industry.

    It is also sad to see the Green Building Advisor serving up infomercials like this, instead of doing the independent research that was its signature.

    1. Expert Member
      Michael Maines | | #4

      Did you actually read the article? It's one of the longest and most in-depth pieces I've read on GBA, and I've read most of the pieces posted here since the site's inception. Fernando is an independent contributor and he researched this piece thoroughly. Of course he interviewed and quoted a representative of the organization representing the industry; if he hadn't, people would have accused him of being biased.

      Negative, unhelpful comments like yours are a large part of the reason it's hard to find people to write. It's certainly part of the reason I don't write articles anymore.

      1. ianmci | | #5

        Yes, I did read through the entire article. I was interested to learn that there is a PVC roofing provider that will take back the roofing at the end of its life. and reprocess it into raw PVC material. There are very few "green" roofing materials, so being able to recycle the roof would be an improvement over many other options.

        The length and in-depthness are impressive, but all the information was from the Vinyl Institute, so I would say it was lengthy but extremely shallow in that it only looked at the Vinyl Institute's shiny, well-polished surface.

        At the very beginning of the article, Fernanda wrote, "At first glance, plastic has all the characteristics of a miracle building material—it’s cheap, durable, and infinitely recyclable." Conceptually, it might be possible to infinitely recycle all plastic, but it is not remotely a reality, as the article itself goes on to demonstrate when it describes how the recycled vinyl is used for substrate, a lower grade than virgin vinyl.

        Who else did Fernando interview in preparing the article? The only credit I noted on all the graphs and charts was for the Vinyl Institute, not an independent academic, research, or testing organization. In the past, I feel that a GreenBuilding article would have presented information from another source?

        1. Expert Member
          Michael Maines | | #6

          In addition to quoting Richard Krock of the Vinyl Institute on the recycling process, Fernando quoted the following:

          Peter Albis and Lionel Dubrofsky of Kaycan
          Mark Miodownik, author
          David Foell of Return Polymers
          Stan Gaveline of Sika

          What organizations do you think compile information on vinyl and produce graphs that are available for re-publishing? Perhaps there are watchdog organizations that do so, but having done research for similar articles in the past, industry organizations are where most of that kind of information is found. If you don't trust the data--I have learned to take anything the plastics industry says with a grain of salt--then discount whatever they are claiming, or recommend sources you think have better information.

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