Recycle Ann Arbor is constantly looking for ways in which to decrease the quantity of material sent to landfill each year. Each RAA division works to achieve the organization’s mission, in line with their own departmental focus. Calvert’s Roll-off Containers targets waste from the construction and demolition sector.
Calvert’s, located at 7891 Jackson Road, is the only non-profit construction and demolition site in Michigan. Calvert’s staff sort every roll-off container brought on site and remove any recyclable materials. An introduction to the Calvert’s staff and operation was recently posted on RAA’s blog. Recycle Ann Arbor seeks to increase diversion, not only by better sorting of the material that comes on site, but by finding recycling outlets for materials that have historically had to be disposed of at landfill. Calvert’s recycles construction and demolition waste such as metals, shingles, asphalt, and concrete.
Recycle Ann Arbor is now launching PVC siding recycling through its Calvert’s operation. This waste stream was one the organization had targeted for diversion from landfill. PVC contains substances used as plasticizers, such as phthalate esters used to increase PVC flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. Since plasticizers are not bound to the PVC, they leach from the products.
In landfill conditions, PVC products are degraded both aerobically (in the presence of oxygen) and anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen). Degradation is faster during the aerobic phase, with losses of phthalates reported as 30-35% of the total content, but this phase is relatively short in comparison to the following phases (European Commission 2000).
Similar degradation continues to occur under the anaerobic phases of the landfill, with the release of phthalates, under methane-producing conditions, reported as ranging from 4 – 40%. Analysis of materials disposed of in a landfill more than 20 years ago still showed considerable amounts of plasticizers and stabilizers present (European Commission 2000).
Phthalates can be detected in landfill leachate (the liquid that is produced as a product of waste decomposition), which indicates that these substances are not completely degraded in the landfill. There is a risk that phthalates can be emitted via landfill leachates to the aquatic environment. Emissions from PVC in landfills are reported to likely last longer than the guarantee of the modern technical barrier/liner; for older landfills, emissions to air, soil and groundwater are to be expected. In addition, as there is evidence that phthalates are not fully eliminated through current leachate treatment, emissions to aquatic ecosystems cannot be excluded (European Commission 2000).
Health effects of PVC Phthalates
Human studies conducted into the effects of PVC plasticizers on health have so far been limited and inconclusive. Studies are being conducted by several government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.
There are numerous animal studies in which the health effects of phthalates have been well-documented. In lab animals, phthalate exposure has been found to be associated with numerous reproductive health and developmental problems such as:
• Early onset of puberty
• Interfering with male reproductive tract development
• Interfering with the natural functioning of the hormone system
• Causing reproductive and genital defects
• Lower testosterone levels in adolescent males
• Lower sperm count in adult males
Ideally Recycle Ann Arbor, in line with its parent organization the Ecology Center, would like to see a move away from the use of PVC products and the associated phthalates, and restrictions placed on disposal methods. In the meantime, Recycle Ann Arbor is seeking to lessen the overall environmental impact of the product during its lifecycle.
The European Commission stated in its 2004 Life Cycle Assessment of PVC that:
“Four primary options for end-of-life PVC treatment exist. Landfilling, thermal treatment (with energy recovery), chemical recycling (most material recovery) and mechanical recycling.
Independently from the type of recovery or recycling option, all options are better than landfilling, because various parts of the products can be used in further life cycles and can substitute primary materials”
Although the health effects of PVC phthalates are not negated by the recycling process, the overall environmental impacts, over the lifetime of the product, are likely lessened.
Recycling at Calvert’s
Any PVC siding delivered to Calvert’s by customers, or via a roll-off container, is now sorted and placed in a separate container for collection by Fryman’s Recycling, South Dowagiac, Michigan. Fryman’s cleans and grinds the vinyl and then supplies it to Certainteed, a sustainable building company specializing in the responsible development of sustainable building products and systems
Calvert’s is an authorized LEED processor. The LEED certification process rewards the reduction of waste at a product’s source, and reuse and recycling of waste produced during the construction project has to be maximized. Recycle Ann Arbor and Calvert’s seek to maximize the material diverted from landfill. For more information on PVC recycling, contact Becky Andrews at email@example.com. To inquire about a roll-off container or services, contact Don Staebler at Calvert’s at 734-426-2280.
Baitz, M. Kreißig, J. Byrne, E. Makishi, C.Kupfer, T. Frees, N. Bey, N. Hansen, M. S. Hansen, A. Bosch, T. Borghi, V. Watson, J. and Miranda, M. (2004) Life Cycle Assessment of PVC and of principal competing materials. [online]Brussels, EU: European Commission. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/sectors/chemicals/files/sustdev/pvc-final_report_lca_en.pdf [Accessed 15 October 2012]
European Commission, (2000) The Behaviour of PVC in Landill. [online]. Brussels, EU: European Commission. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/studies/pvc/landfill.pdf [Accessed 15 October 2012]
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.(2012) Phthalates – The Everywhere Chemical. [online] San Rafael,California: Zero Cancer. Available at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/assets/docs/j_q/phthalates_the_everywhere_chemical_handout_.pdf#search=pvc [Accessed 15 October 2012]