Novel recycling options identified for waste vinyl
An ambitious research project spearheaded by the Vinyl Council of Australia has identified several novel recycling applications in a bid to use the 1.2 million m2 of PVC advertising banners sent to Australian landfill sites each year.
The two-year REMAKE Project explored the challenges of previously difficult-to-recycle vinyl-coated polyester woven fabrics to find new uses for the billboard skins, as well as grain covers and truck tarpaulins totalling around 5000 tonnes, that are landfilled each year. The scale of the Australian market demanded innovative and lower cost reprocessing solutions than those that exist in Europe, with the cost of sending billboard skins to landfill averaging $200,000 per year in NSW alone.
With funding from the NSW Environment Trust for research and design, the Vinyl Council coordinated the project under its PVC Stewardship Program. Project partners included Monash University; UNSW; Vinyl Council members Rojo Pacific, Welvic Australia and PMG Engineering; the Outdoor Media Association; and several potential end-product manufacturers.
Studies into cost-effective reprocessing techniques and potential end products and markets for the recyclate culminated in a number of possible applications, ranging from market bags to safety floor mats, garden watering containers and roof tiles. Following prototyping, three product designs are being assessed for commercial viability.
The fresh approach of the students and product designers pushed beyond traditional reprocessing to 3D printing, rotomoulding, compression welding and de-inking. Recycling techniques included composite reprocessing with other end-of-life vinyl products, mechanical and chemical separation, and chemical engineering studies to evaluate recyclate properties.
Significantly, the project has encouraged government and industry investment of more than $300,000 into PVC recycling in Australia. An industry partner has already patented a scalable chemical separation process for PVC and is attracting investment interest.
Vinyl Council Chief Executive Sophi MacMillan said the REMAKE Project participants have made a valuable contribution to the industry’s progress in finding a solution to the recycling of PVC-coated fabrics in Australia, with further work now needed to find a long-term, market-based, viable solution. The next steps include further refining processing technologies, identifying other potential end users of the materials and encouraging sector investment in collection/recycling schemes to drive the program’s next stages.
“The durability, weatherability and flexibility of these materials make them an excellent choice for many applications, yet they have been previously difficult to recycle,” MacMillan said. “As a priority recycling area, this project has shown great potential for recovering these resources for use in new products.
“Further encouragement by government and the community of circular economy programs like ours would lift recycling rates, support reprocessing of complex products as well as generate jobs and promote innovation. This would lead to a step change in diverting difficult but quality products from landfill and a move towards greater sustainability.
“While there is still more work to do, if we find a viable reprocessing technology and end-product solution, then this has the potential to be replicated overseas.”
More information on the REMAKE Project can be found here in the final report.
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