Many plastic-based building materials that could be recycled aren’t, because most companies haven’t yet figured out how. The AZEK Company cracked this code, and diverted nearly 300 million pounds of waste from landfills in 2019.
Every time an office building or an old home is demolished, all of the broken-down materials have to go somewhere. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 230 million to 530 million tons of construction waste are produced annually — and much of that material ends up in landfills.
The bulk of construction and demolition waste is old bricks, masonry, concrete, wood and metal; but it’s not exclusively that. Some plastic-based building materials — such as windows, flooring and decking — that could be recycled aren’t, because companies haven’t yet figured out how to collect and reuse the plastic at the heart of these products.
Chicago-based The AZEK Company has cracked this code.
AZEK manufactures PVC decking for residential homes and other structures. TimberTech® AZEK decking is a co-extruded PVC deck board with a cap layer that creates a beautiful wood-look aesthetic while protecting your deck from the elements. In October 2018, the product was made with 30 percent recycled content. Today TimberTech AZEK decking is manufactured using 63 percent recycled content, 47 percent of which is sourced from external scrap materials.
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“We’re on a mission to convert the building products industry from its uninspiring past to a dynamic and sustainable future,” said Bruce Stanhope, PhD, AZEK’s Vice President of Research and Development. “To accomplish this takes reimagining current products to find a way to make them better.”
Here’s how they reimagined a more sustainable decking product.
Building a better recycling stream
AZEK went on a mission to shrink its environmental footprint by recycling more, and diverting more and more waste from landfills. To achieve this, they had to figure out how to recycle material that most people won’t touch.
The first step was identifying potential sources of materials for recycling. The company found some across AZEK divisions and others from different sources, and identified traditional PVC components — such as siding, piping and windows. They also sourced post-consumer content that has proven much more difficult to recycle — including vinyl composite tile (VCT) flooring, cooling towers, credit cards, powders and chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC); and they partnered with over 150 different grinders and recyclers, ensuring a steady supply chain.
The second step was the secret sauce: figuring out how to remove the contaminants, and separate the metals and non-PVC components in order to get reusable post-consumer PVC that could be put back into decking material. To achieve this, the AZEK team also had to modify their formulations to adapt to the breadth of recycling stream inputs.
As they put this ambitious recycling project into operation, The AZEK Company diverted nearly 300 million pounds of waste from landfills in 2019. Their goal moving forward is to do even more.
“Sustainability is a journey,” Stanhope said, “and we will continue to push the boundaries of our recycling capabilities and innovations.”