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Spreading the Word About Vinyl Siding’s Recycling Advantages

In December 2018, the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI) published a blog I wrote that focused on vinyl siding’s superior recycling advantages. In researching this piece, I learned that the vinyl siding industry introduced in-house waste management techniques during the manufacturing process as far back as the 1970s as a means of eliminating waste and achieving greater landfill diversion. To date, there is no other cladding industry that uses the co-extrusion and re-grind processes that vinyl siding manufacturers introduced four decades ago, and who are continuously improving these processes for the benefit of end-users and homeowners alike.

And yet, the industry is still working to dispel the myth (created by competitors and greenwashers) that vinyl siding is a throw-away plastic. Using facts and science, the VSI’s Sustainability Work Group is striving to spread the word about vinyl siding – that it’s a durable thermoplastic that is designed for recyclability.

The group started the process with a survey last June to test the pulse of industry insiders to see what they knew. They were pleased to find that:

1) 93% of respondents knew that vinyl siding could be recycled.

2) 98% felt that the VSI should focus on recycling as an issue.

The work group’s next step is to create greater awareness via the VSI website and will feature a series of case studies in which subject matter experts from the manufacturers weigh in on how important recycling is to them, and what they are doing to introduce the next generation of recycling innovations.

The first case study comes from Eric Cotterman, Product/Installation Trainer for Cornerstone Brands, and Chair of VSI’s Sustainability Work Group.

Cotterman said: “Recycling represents the best of our company’s core mission statement: ‘We challenge the status quo and proactively seek opportunities for continuous improvement and transformative breakthroughs. We develop products and solutions to meet our customers’ evolving needs and improve communities through our commitment to environmental sustainability.’  I think this is what this industry does best. By collaborating among group members through VSI, our industry has the ability to make a positive change for our customers, team members, and our communities.” 

When asked about what his company is doing with its recycling program that’s innovative or “ahead of the curve,” Cotterman said that Cornerstone Brands is always looking at the next product through the lens of durable, long-lasting, sustainability, and reduced waste both in manufacturing and at the end of its life cycle with the consumer.

“Our biggest accomplishment is the use of very different materials that this industry has not seen in our products before,” he said.

Cotterman added that Cornerstone has broken new ground with the use of innovative boxing, paint reduction, re-use through technology and new distribution methods like loading trucks with fewer pallets and other materials that eventually find their way into the landfills.

“Our mission is to eliminate these waste factors before the products leave our plants,” he noted.

With regards to marketing promotions and raising awareness, Cotterman said that Cornerstone Brands is always trying to promote the sustainable attributes of their product lines. “We also conduct plant tours which allow customers to see how we are trying to eliminate waste during the manufacturing process.  And I know there are several projects in the works whose mission is to create a durable, sustainable, long-lasting product for generations to come.”

Drawing on the company’s rich history of leading the exteriors industry in using recycling methods during the manufacturing process, Cotterman indicated that Cornerstone is always looking for new ways to change operations to achieve their recycling objectives.

“This can be done in several ways: lighting, pallets, paint processes, re-grind and the introduction of re-grind in the product in higher levels,” he explained.

Cotterman also referred to incorporating electric automated robots in the plant to reduce gas and diesel, as well as the use of renewable energy to reduce the use of fossil fuels in tow motors and other equipment. Developing partners in the communities where their plants are located is also crucial.

“If we are unable to re-use materials for some reason, we work with local companies to refine and send to another local manufacturer in a different industry so that they can use that refined product for another useful application. These partnerships are invaluable for keeping our materials out of the landfills,” he asserted.

Cotterman added: “Moving forward, this aspect of our recycling program is a high priority. The use of updates to the technology in our plants will always be looked at and adapted but finding a place for materials that cannot be re-used in our products needs to become our expertise. I think that all industries can do a better job at this. For us, landfill depletion is an essential part of our objectives.”

Cotterman said that his company is well aware that most people outside of the industry don’t know that polymeric siding and related products can be recycled and re-used in manufacturing environments. He noted that Cornerstone shares the VSI’s commitment to creating greater awareness among key stakeholders, including homebuilders, code officials, consumers and government influencers.

“Most consumers look at vinyl as a plastic straw – which it is definitely not. If we could get the average consumer to understand how much this industry does to ensure sustainability objectives are achieved, I think that the perception can change, especially if people knew that the product can also be recycled during distribution and at end-of-life consumer use.”

To gain more converts and increase greater awareness, Cotterman believes that education and repetition is the key to long-lasting success.

“The technology and processes I mentioned tell a terrific story of how vinyl siding has a 50-year life cycle that is third-party tested and certified, and that this product is well-made. It works well with multiple application styles both functionally and architecturally. At the end of the day, the end-user has a beautifully-designed home with the ability to recycle the product for greater landfill depletion.”

The ultimate goal of the VSI’s Sustainability Work Group is to uncover whether a model for recycling could be developed that could be used across the country and throughout the entire value chain.

With Cornerstone Brands and other leading manufacturers forging new ground in their recycling best practices that transcend their in-house capabilities, Cotterman sees a bright future in which the industry can make an even greater impact on green building while educating more people on vinyl siding’s “recycling truth.”