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Companies Partner to Get the Lead Out of PVC Recyclate

A transnational partnership pools resources to develop scalable technology to extract heavy metals from recycled PVC and further the circular economy for both materials.

Norbert Sparrow

May 17, 2024

2 Min Read
Research team exploring heavy metal extraction from PVC recyclate
The research team includes (left to right) Richard Baudouin (Meraxis), Alexandre Thillou (KemOne), Karine Paillot (KemOne), Peter Voth (Rehau), Mickael Laurent (KemOne), and Martin Sonntag (Rehau).Image courtesy of Rehau

A transnational collaborative project in Europe is investigating the extraction of heavy metals such as lead from PVC recyclate and reintroducing the materials into their appropriate recycling streams. Initial trials begun in 2021 have now evolved into a pilot phase, with industrial-scale production anticipated by 2030 at the earliest.

The three companies participating in this project are described as key players in the PVC value chain. French company Kem One has expertise in PVC production and processes, including recycling partnerships; Germany’s Rehau Window Solutions is a polymer specialist with a strong focus on sustainability; and Switzerland’s Meraxis, part of the Rehau Group, is a distributor of polymer and polymer-based products.

Extracting heavy metals from PVC combines mechanical recycling to shred the window frames and chemical recycling for the extraction of heavy metals, notably lead, according to the companies. The extracted lead then can be reintroduced into an existing material-specific recycling stream, while the recycled PVC can be processed into new window profiles.

In the past, lead was primarily used as a stabilizer in construction applications, such as window profiles, cables, pipes, hoses, and sheeting, a project spokesperson told PlasticsToday. This is no longer the case — Rehau like most European window manufacturers has used calcium-zinc stabilizers for decades — but to achieve a circular economy, old lead-containing window frames must be recycled. Moreover, new window profiles with recyclates may contain minor traces of lead as a legacy additive.

“Recycling PVC and the legacy additive in small amounts within a closed loop has proven to be the most sustainable approach to managing these materials,” said the spokesperson. “Rehau Window Solutions, for example, has three recycling sites across Europe to maintain a closed material cycle. The production and recycling sites keep the PVC material in a traceable cycle from profile to profile. To further enhance sustainability, our research project aims for a future where even legacy additives can be eliminated from recycled PVC.”

While the research is still in a lab setting, it recently moved into its first pilot phase. Scaling up the process will take time and resources, and it will require public funding, note the companies. But the effort is well worth it, they say: “Successfully completing this project will allow us to produce lead-free recyclate on an industrial scale and return the recovered heavy metals to the supply chain cycle.”

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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