By Rebecca Matthews, VEKA Plc
Just a few years ago, no car manufacturer in their right mind would own up to building their vehicles out of ‘scrap’. Today, even a brand as prestigious as BMW shouts it out with pride.
It was just the same in our industry and, little over a decade ago, we at VEKA were not alone in distancing ourselves from the ‘R’ Word – in the days when the ‘R’ Word was not ‘Recycling’ but ‘Regrind.’ It doesn’t matter that they are nearly the same thing to the analytical chemist; they are worlds apart to our customers and no one needs reminding how broad the gulf between those two ‘R’s has proven to be.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that VEKA, like BMW, originates in Germany. For years, that country’s politicians and industry leaders have been utterly committed not just to recycling but all facets of environmental responsibility while, until far more recently, such talk in the UK was dismissed as the ramblings of sandal-wearers.
In the last few years, we all watched with frustration as housing bodies and other commercial clients stood cautiously, each waiting for another to be the first to sign to a recycled window. We are very proud to say that when that leap of faith was made – by the Places for People housing body – it was a VEKA window that was specified. But for us that was far from the beginning of the greening of PVC-U.
We were already recycling 50,000 tonnes a year of PVC-U and had been since 1993 at the world’s first purpose-built plant of its kind, at Behringen in Germany, where the product is so pure it can be put straight back into window frames. We had seen the first BFRC ‘A’ Rating awarded to a VEKA window. And of course, most recently, we brought all our recycling know-how into a completely new system under the name of Infinity. Profiles of this latest system can contain up to 80% recycled PVC-U carefully concealed in a co-extruded virgin outer skin for unsurpassed colour stability and has its own distinctive branded tape. VEKA Sales & Marketing Director Colin Torley says recent demand has shown that the industry is more than ready for a recycled product:
“It took a leap of faith by our client, the Places For People housing group, to be the first to take the recycled route,” he added.
“But now many others are ready to follow and we have the system to meet all their needs.” He added: “It has taken considerable investment, in both research and technology, to reach this point but we began with the commitment to offer this profile at the same price as its virgin polymer equivalent and I am proud to say we have achieved that.”
Initial take-up is expected to continue in the social sector but many in domestic retrofit are watching its progress closely, especially those working in affluent intellectual neighbourhoods.
Now, any VEKA fabricator has access to the ten profiles to make casement and tilt/turns as well as doors, all fully compatible with the existing Matrix 70 system.
But why go to all this trouble in the first place? To answer that, you have to think back to the earlier days of PVC-U windows. The fashion was for disposable everything, from razors and nappies to mountains of plastic packaging and no one cared as long as landfill dumps were invitingly empty and there was plenty more oil in the ground. A friend once complained he had a motorway services coffee and cake that generated nine items of waste – nearly all plastic – and no one seemed to see this as a problem.
The transformation from that mindset has happened easily, though gradually, but the acceptance of a quality, recycled window has been a different thing altogether and I am afraid to say I believe the battle for hearts and minds is far from over. The ground-breaking move by Places for People was a courageous step and has opened the door for other bodies to consider the same step. But how will the consumer take to it? Even for a system supplier like VEKA with a strong commitment to the social sector, the core business is still the replacement market and there is every chance that 20million UK householders will have 20million different opinions on the matter. However, with the first domestic installation of Infinity now complete it is only a matter of time to see how many homeowners choose to embrace the Infinity system and its clear environmental benefits.
Perhaps again, homeowners will all wait until they see someone else’s toe in the water, then take it to their hearts as naturally as they have to a recycled carrier bag. Perhaps it will even open up the entire concept of PVC-U to the most hardcore environmentalist who would never otherwise be seen dead using the stuff.
At the most optimistic, I might say the question will not be ‘whether’ but ‘when’ and maybe ‘how much.’ But I do know that whatever the future holds for recycling in PVC-U, we at VEKA will be ready and waiting to lead the market just as we have done in so many other things.
Tel: +44 (0) 1282 716611
Fax: +44 (0) 1282 725257