I was inspired to write this post after watching Sky News’ special coverage of plastic and the contamination of our planet’s seas and the whole ecosystem. Some of you may have seen it. The reports are frankly shameful, and only serves to reinforce how humans are really by far the most destructive, ignorant and harmful species on this planet. But that’s a rant for another time.

It did get me thinking about how we go about our “green” business in the window and door industry. Some elements of recycled products are creeping in. Some profiles boast a small percentage use of recycled material in their makeup. Thermal reinforcing in some products is also made from recycled products.

But we’re only talking a few percent here. Much of the materials used in PVCu, aluminium and timber products are virgin, or brand new. Is now the time where our industry should be taking a much more radical approach to our production. And would installers be happy selling windows that are mostly recycled to home owners?

Big carbon footprint

However you look at it, our industry creates a huge carbon footprint in the creation of our windows and doors. PVCu might be the worst. The frames derive from oil as the most basic raw material. It’s a messy, expensive and harmful job getting it out of the ground and then refined in such a manner as to provide the main ingredients to producing PVCu.

But even aluminium and timber products cause their own environmental damage during production. Glass and hardware can be included too. Then there is the transportation of these products down the supply chain before they eventually end up installed in the home owner’s property. I haven’t seen any sort of report which attempts to discover what scale of carbon footprint we create, but if there was, I’m sure it wouldn’t make for pleasant reading.

The good news however is that all the major glazing material groups can be recycled many times over. The bad news is that there appears to be very little focus on turning first generation windows into second and third generation windows via fully recycled methods. This is an area where I believe we should really be looking at now.

It’s not impossible to do, I believe. The technology is already there. There are processes that can break old PVCu windows down, back into pellet form, which could then be sent to a sysco to turn into raw profile again. The same can be said of aluminium, timber, glass and so on. All the main materials we use in our windows and doors can quite feasibly be recycled and used again for the very same purpose.

Some companies are on that road, only very few. One being Eurocell. They have a dedicated recycling plant capable of taking in 12,000 post consumer frames per week. They state on their website that they have a “closed loop” recycling system where they will produce new windows and doors from old ones and supply back to the same supplier. They also state that their Modus system is available in 100% recycled materials. An impressive feat when you consider how little attention to recycling much of the rest of the industry has been paying.

Still, even at 100% recycled PVCu, that’s still not a fully recycled window. What about the glass? What about the hardware? I think we should be looking at methods to create a window product that is truly 100% made from recycled materials across the board. Question is, would installers buy into the idea and sell it to the home owner?


DGB Business

A genuine USP for installers?

Would installers consider a 100% fully recycled window product as a USP? Would they think that it’s a novel idea, and aimed at the right market it could go down well? Or would they see it as a tainted product. A window system that would never have the prestige of being called “brand new”? I fear the latter.

Importantly, I’m not sure how invested a home owner would become in the idea that their new windows and doors come from old windows and doors from elsewhere. In my own personal experience in selling to home owners, the “green” features of our products are perhaps the least inspiring to them. You can see it in their reactions to the points you’re trying to make about them. They glaze over and become disinterested. Immediately you have a barrier you won’t break down and so you turn to other USPs of the product to get the demonstration back on track.

And it’s those experiences which tells me that even if our industry thought fully recycled windows and doors are a good idea, the wider general public are widely not tuned in to the importance of something like this. I personally like the idea of selling a window where the profile, glass and hardware are all produced from recycled materials. The environmental benefits are obvious. Existing materials kept in use rather than being sent underground or elsewhere. A reduced carbon foot print. Good for the planet. I just don’t see home owners getting excited enough at the prospect of that kind of product. We all know we should be kinder to our environment, but when it comes to investing serious money in new windows and doors, I think they’ll want guaranteed “new” on all their windows and doors.

It’s a shame, as I think there is actually big business potential in the idea of producing a 100% recycled window and door product. Think of the plants that would need to be built in order to facilitate such a system. Job creation would be healthy. You then at the same time create a big post-consumer recycling market within UK fenestration. New revenues, new jobs, kinder on the world we live in.

We’re a long way away from that point however. There just doesn’t seem to be much drive or demand for such a product, so until there is, I cannot see us selling and installing a 100% recycled window or door any time soon. But we face a growing crisis where our planet is quickly creaking under the strains and stresses our consumption is causing. Be it windows and doors, plastic bottles, food waste or anything disposable, we’re creating pollutants that are literally killing the very place we live in. If we let it get much worse, there will come a time where very little may matter.

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