Rehau Window Solutions provides window manufacturers with PVC window profile systems. PVC windows consist of the glass panel, the window frame and mechanical parts. The window frame mainly consists of the PVC-profile, a steel reinforcement and seals.
The main materials glass, steel and PVC are recyclable. Thanks to their good recycling properties, the materials retain value on the recycling market, supported by Germany’s ban on landfilling PVC since 2005.
Given the energy-intensity of producing PVC, its end-of-life restriction in Germany and the innovation introduced by Rehau of reinforcing its PVC with glass-fibre, a circular solution had to be found.
Innovations have been introduced at several levels: Internally, through the incorporation of glass-fibre into its extruded PVC-profiles, Rehau has created a product with many efficiency properties (lighter, greater insulation due to less thermal loss, greater stability); yet this glass-fibre reinforced PVC has to be segregated in the recycling process from normal PVC; Collaboratively, to achieve this, tracer-based marking, provided by its technology supplier, Polysecure, has been incorporated into the raw material. Cuttings from Rehau’s customers as well as output from PVC recyclers, is collected and thanks to tracer-based sorting, can be segregated. Systemically, German window profile manufacturers created a recycling initiative for window profiles called Rewindo . Rewindo collects building materials containing PVC (window profiles, window shutters and doors) and reprocesses these via shredding, grinding and extrusion) into recyclate. Such PVC recyclate can then be used in manufacturing window profiles and other new products.
Value-chain collaboration: Rehau insists that its customers separate their profile cuttings, according to whether they have glass-fibre content or not; further down the value-chain, it procures PVC-recyclate from PVC recyclers, as a source of secondary raw material which is cheaper than virgin sources; lastly, the demolition industry in Germany supplies old windows from its refurbishment or demolition sites. Enabling technology: Polysecure’s tracer-based sorting technology enables marking of the PVC and then identification (tracing) during the recycling process. It is a ‘lock-and-key’ system, in which a specific and unique marker is furnished to Rehau, which can then be detected by the sorting machines after shredding and prior to re-granulation.
Circular Economy Business Models
Rehau manages to ‘close-the-loop’ for its glass-fibre reinforced PVC. Indeed it is one of the only players to extrude this kind of PVC and all sectoral actors are keen on this segregation. Closer relationships with customers, suppliers and recyclers are the result. Avoidance of virgin-PVC usage: by closing the loop, Rehau managed to avoid 25,000 tonnes of virgin PVC through the use of PVC recyclate. Moreover, such recyclate being €100-200 cheaper than virgin grade, a significant cost saving could be achieved. Banning the landfill of PVC in Germany has given a major push to closing the loop, ensuring that older PVC which included lead and cadmium as stabilisers, maintain bonded in existing systems, thereby still performing their building insulation (energy efficiency) function in a recycled profile.