From cradle to grave

Being truly sustainable requires more than just a commitment to designing energy efficient products for end users. Gareth Jones, Rehau’s marketing and technical director for window solutions, explains why sustainability starts at home.

When it comes to energy efficiency, Rehau offers a market-leading range of thermally efficient window and door systems. These include our Agila Passivhaus doors and our Geneo profile windows, which have both been certified by the Passivhaus Institute and awarded the highest thermal performance standard in the world. Looking at these impressive green credentials, some may say we’ve done our bit for the environment.

But sustainability isn’t just about having products which offer the end user money off their monthly fuel bills. Window and door manufacturers must consider every step of the journey, from how our products are made and the materials we use to what happens to our products at the end of their working life, to establish meaningful ‘green’ working practices. Essentially, it is hypocritical to bang the drum for customers to be more energy efficient if we aren’t taking steps to be more sustainable ourselves.

In recent years, the increasing number of first generation PVCU windows being replaced has presented a real opportunity for the glass and glazing industry to up the ante on its commitment to recycling materials for example. As an industry, we need to recycle around 800,000 tonnes of PVC each year if we are to meet VinylPlus’s voluntary commitment target.

Like all thermoplastics, it’s relatively simple to recycle PVC, and when used with new polymer, it can be given a new lease of life. Some reports suggest that PVC can be recycled up to 10 times in its lifetime, so future new polymer use could be significantly less if we continue to recycle and reuse it more.

In 2015 Rehau acquired PVCR, a recycling factory in Manchester, which allows us to do just that – turning post-industrial (off cuts) and post-consumer (old frames) PVC into material we can use in the manufacture of new window and door profiles.

The recycled PVCU material from the recycling plant is taken to our factory in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales, to be melt-filtrated and pelletized for use in the production of Rehau’s new Total70 co-extruded profile range, which is made by blending new and recycled material together.

We believe that co-extrusion is a really important element of the required push for sustainability in the glazing industry. This provides a closed loop process for the replacement of first generation PVCU windows, as the windows being taken out of a property can be recycled and reincarnated as new, high quality windows.

Recycling PVC windows in this way has merits for environmentally conscious end users and is certainly a selling point for installers but it also has a further reaching environmental impact. By recycling more PVC windows and doors, we are able to divert them away from landfill – this is particularly important as PVC does not degrade over time.

Sustainability is at the heart of what we do at Rehau; we have been recycling trade off-cuts for more than 15 years, and have invested more than €50 million in new technology and facilities to ensure that more than half of our products will be made using recycled materials by 2020 (in line with VinylPlus’s targets).

Our ultimate goal is to use up to 100% post-consumer waste in the core of our profiles, demonstrating our willingness to go the extra mile to ensure we are a green and sustainable business.

The Rehau Group has produced a Sustainability Report which outlines all the company’s activities globally, to reduce our impact on the planet. This is further proof of our commitment to walk the walk, not just talk the talk when it comes to sustainability.