PVC waste management

The PVC industry is committed to sustainable development of the PVC value chain and an efficient use and management of PVC products through their entire lifecycle. Enormous progress has been made in collecting, recycling and recovering PVC-based products to ensure that valuable raw materials are conserved in an economically suitable way, and other component PVC waste is managed appropriately.

VinylPlus takes responsibility

The VinylPlus platform puts this commitment into action. VinylPlus is the ten-year Voluntary Commitment of the European PVC industry which builds upon the achievements of the Vinyl 2010 programme. It takes into account the next steps in tackling the sustainability challenges of PVC and also establishes a long-term framework for the on-going sustainable development of the PVC value chain.

Read more about sustainability and VinylPlus

Main recovery processes for PVC waste

Mechanical recycling: Technologies to turn recovered and sorted PVC waste back into new PVC material by physical processes.

Energy recovery: Processes where PVC is incinerated for thermal energy recovery. This is important where end-of-life products are unsuitable for recycling because of technical or cost reasons.

VinylPlus finances PVC recycling innovation

Across Europe, VinylPlus manages, promotes and finances schemes on waste logistics, collection, recycling and new technologies. Collecting sufficient and appropriate quantities is often the greatest challenge. In 2015, 514,913 tonnes of post-consumer PVC waste were recycled. By 2020, VinylPlus aims to recycle 800,000 tonnes of PVC per year. Read more about PVC and recycling at VinylPlus' website.

PVC recovery in hospitals

Recycling PVC medical applications is a good idea. For one thing, PVC can be turned into new products once recovered from the waste stream. In fact, PVC is simply too valuable a resource to landfill. Therefore, various initiatives to recover as much PVC as possible are being implemented at hospitals around the world.

Over 90 Australian and New Zealand hospitals recycle PVC medical products

In 2009, a pilot PVC recovery programme was initiated at Western Health Hospital in Victoria, Australia. The programme — with participation from PVCMed Alliance affiliate Vinyl Council of Australia — demonstrated that hospital staff can separate PVC medical products relatively easily. The recovered PVC can then be recycled and used as a raw material for new products.

A success story

After learning from Western Health, other Australian and also New Zealand hospitals have implemented like programmes. More than 90 hospitals in Australia and New Zealand now recycle PVC medical applications, namely IV bags, face masks and oxygen tubing.

RecoMed take-back scheme for PVC medical devices

The Australian success story has travelled to the UK where very similar initiatives are being implemented. 12 National Health Service Trust hospitals participates in the RecoMed take-back scheme for disposable PVC medical devices. The programme is funded by VinylPlus and conducted by a partnership between Axion Consulting and the British Plastics Federation. In 2015 RecoMed won the Barema & AAGBI Environmental Award.

Energy recovery

Unlike most PVC applications, the majority of PVC medical devices are short term, single-use products.

For safety reasons, medical PVC waste and other hospital waste streams are generally managed through incineration. This is a highly effective waste management method. When incinerated, the waste is combusted at high temperatures, thereby destroying contaminants and lowering the waste volume dramatically. Typically, the thermal energy can be used to generate electricity and in some instances district heating. Incineration is thus also known as “waste-to-energy.”

Hospital waste incineration has been greatly improved

Hospital waste management processes have been improved over the last decades to make incineration sustainable and efficient. In addition, recent experiences have shown that recycling of medical waste has the potential to be successfully implemented in healthcare settings like hospitals, therefore contributing to smart use of resources and improved cost-efficiency.

Tackling troublesome emissions

Concerns have been raised about the potential emission of waste substances from PVC incineration. The production of waste substances depends on incineration conditions. In modern, well-run incinerators, these substances are appropriately managed on the basis of the strict procedures and standards set up under the EU legislation.

Want to learn more about incineration of PVC?

PVCMed Alliance affiliate VinylPlus has published easy-to-read articles, based on the latest scientific research, on PVC waste incineration and dioxins and hydrogen chloride (HCl).