Specifier Review
PVC-U recycling in windows

PVC-U recycling in windows

The ‘R’ Word

VEKA plc Sales & Marketing Director Colin Torley says the road to acceptance of recycled windows was not an easy one.

Not many years ago, no prestige consumer brand manufacturer in their right mind would own up to making their products out of ‘scrap’. Today, even a brand as globally revered as BMW shouts it out with pride.

It was just the same in the PVC-U window 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.

It is no coincidence that VEKA, like BMW, originates in Germany. For years, that country’s politicians and industry leaders has been utterly committed not just to recycling but all facets of environmental responsibility while, until 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. More recently, Luton Borough Council became the first local authority in the UK to commit to using only PVC-U replacement windows – again the Infinity system.

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, we have now brought all our recycling know-how into a completely new system under the name of Infinity, which has up to 80% recycled PVC-U locked in a co-extruded virgin outer skin for unsurpassed colour stability. The product is completely indistinguishable from conventional profile, in looks and performance, and has its own distinctive branded protective tape to avoid any mix-up by fabricators or installers.

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.

The transformation from that mindset has happened easily, though gradually, but the acceptance of a quality, recycled window has been a different matter and I believe the battle for hearts and minds is far from over. The ground-breaking moves by Places for People and Luton Borough represented a courageous step that has opened the door for other bodies. 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 domestic market and there is every chance that 20million householders will have 20million different opinions on the matter. Just a few weeks ago however, we celebrated the first installation of a recycled window into a UK private house – again Infinity naturally – and are confident that, seeing someone else’s toe in the water, others may take it to their hearts as naturally as they have to a recycled carrier bag.

It could even open up the entire concept of PVC-U to the most hardcore tree-huggers who wouldn’t otherwise be seen dead using the stuff.

At the most optimistic, I might say the question is not ‘whether’ but ‘when.’ But I do know that whatever the future holds for recycling in PVC-U, we at VEKA are ready and waiting to lead the market just as we have done in so many other things.