Environmental Considerations

The Vinyl Institute website offers two comprehensive databases about vinyl and recycling.

Click here for the database of vinyl recycling companies.

Click here for the database of manufacturers of recycled vinyl products.

Environmental Considerations

Section Contents:

Recyclability and disposal issues
Energy efficiency
Indoor/outdoor air quality
Resource conservation
Other environmental considerations

Recyclability and disposal issues. Vinyl roofing membranes can be and are being recycled into such second-generation products as speed bumps, parking curbs and asphalt patching material. Nearly all vinyl roofing manufacturers utilize post-industrial recycled roofing scrap which has been generated in their manufacturing processes in their products. In other cases, because of the high performance standards for the product, little or no amounts of recycled content are used. As processing technologies improve, however, there will be expanded opportunities for the use of recycled material in this industry.

Energy efficiency. The relatively light weight and compactness of vinyl roofing membranes (around one-third pound per square foot) makes for energy-efficient transportation of the product to the installation site. The manufacturing process for vinyl roofing membranes is also more energy efficient than that of some alternatives, especially other plastics. But vinyl's most notable advantage in energy efficiency comes in the use phase of the product. Because they are typically light in color, vinyl roofing membranes are known as "reflective" roof surfaces, reflecting sunlight and radiant heat away from a building, helping the structure to stay cool and reducing energy use for air conditioning.

Many vinyl roofing membranes have also been recognized by the Energy Star Roof Products Program of the U.S. EPA and the U.S. DOE. This program helps specifiers quickly and easily identify products that can save them money and protect the environment by saving energy.

Indoor/outdoor air quality. The light color of vinyl roofing membranes has also been shown to have a positive impact on air quality. Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found that summertime urban air temperatures can be greatly reduced by using such light roof surfaces as compared to dark-colored industrial/commercial roofing materials. Decreases in urban air temperature can substantially improve air quality, since smog is the result of photochemical reactions that are triggered by air temperature increases. Vinyl roofing membranes - when installed on multiple buildings in an urban setting - can diffuse heat within a city and assist in lowering air-conditioning consumption, thereby helping to lessen smog formation.

In fact, reinforced thermoplastic vinyl roofing membrane has been recognized for its ability to optimize solar-reflective properties. Reinforced thermoplastic vinyl roofing membrane has scored over 104 on the Solar Reflective Index (SRI). This is particularly significant because the SRI was designed to measure the relative reflective and thermal emissive performance properties of roofing surfaces on a scale of 1-100.

It's also important to note that when existing vinyl roofing membranes are removed and replaced, the process releases little or no airborne contaminants. Also, during installation of vinyl roofing systems, fumes and odors are minimized as compared with hot kettles, open flame and asphalt or coal tar used to create built-up roofs. Because vinyl membranes can be hot-air-welded together, there is less need for high-solvent adhesives to close the seams.

Resource conservation. Lightweight vinyl roof systems help reduce the need for steel and wood which are needed to support heavier roof system options.

Other environmental considerations. The versatility of vinyl roofing membranes allows it to re-cover an existing roof, which is both an environmental and financial benefit. A built-up roof can be left in place, overlaid with insulation and topped with a vinyl roofing membrane. Conversely, disposal of a built-up roof could mean high disposal costs, greater material volume in landfills, increased labor requirements and possible exposure to asbestos in the old roofing system.

Finally, vinyl roofing membranes can also be found as a component in "green roofs," which consist of a multi-layer soil and drainage system upon which vegetation can grow on urban roofs. Green roofs, in turn, improve the energy efficiency of buildings, enhance the look of urban rooftops and promote healthier air in such areas.