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The Inflatable Project

Wow… so many floaties!

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice: the number of inflatable items in stores is growing steadily. From air mattresses to swimming pools and from floating flamingos to giant unicorns; the choice seems endless. But where did this trend actually come from? And why are we so massively enamored by it?

One possible explanation is that we increasingly need playful, playful elements in our lives. We want to be able to take a break from the serious world around us and immerse ourselves in an imaginative environment. And what could be more imaginative than a giant, pink flamingo that you can float on?

In addition, social media also plays a role in the popularity of inflatable items. After all, it is incredibly photogenic to pose on such a brightly colored unicorn while floating around in the pool. In this way, inflatable items are seen not only as functional products, but also as accessories that contribute to a certain lifestyle.

Floaties and the environment.

Many consumers are unsure and throw it in the PMD bin or with REST. Neither option is ideal! The PMD bin is for packaging materials, so the flamingo doesn’t belong there. REST is often incinerated, which is unfortunate because PVC releases chlorine gases that are harmful to the environment. PVC can easily be mechanically recycled into a new raw material, so collecting it separately is better!

Ultimately, it is up to us as consumers to make conscious choices in our purchases. Do we really need a new inflatable item every year, or can we still use our old air mattresses and swimming bands just fine? And if we do buy something new, let’s take responsibility to dispose of it separately.

The Pilot

Year after year we saw an increase in the number of inflatables in Dutch stores. This increase is inherent to consumer demand the “throw-away-society”, which buys the items within a summer and transforms them into waste. Moreover, we heard from the market that these items were a problem disturbing both the residual waste and PMD stream. This was enough reason for Vinylrecycling to turn it into a project and find a suitable partner to start the pilot with us.  Circlewaarde, the umbrella body uniting the AVU, Circulus and ROVA organizations, recognized this problem and agreed to the pilot.

We placed MicroBins at the 19 recycling centers where residents could leave their inflatable items. Because of the hot weather, there was a lot of interest in the project and we had to replace the first full bins with empty ones within a week. The project was well received by both the public and the media, so other organizations approached us to participate.

Rd4 and Cyclus we were able to add. Cyclus went along with the modus operandi, Rd4 received 20 bins and took care of the logistics as well as storage and transshipment.

The policy focused on taking in inflatable items that are intended for water fun and must be inflated manually. The figures presented here are from this pilot period, although this flow continued during the winter months. There were less frequent bing swaps. Nevertheless, we still collected 8,500 kg of PVC.

Some results.

During the period from July through October 2022, 15 routes driven and 97 bins exchanged.

The average volume per bin was 152.35kg. The highest weight was reached by AVU Lopik (367kg).

20,778 kilograms of material was collected.

50% was reinforced PVC, therefor only +/- 10.500kg was workable to become new raw material.

Reinforced material. What does that mean?

There are two types of inflatables: most are made entirely of PVC film and can be easily mechanically recycled. The larger items, such as large swimming pools with metal frames, subs and canoes, are made of “reinforced PVC,” meaning an extra layer of PET has been added to the PVC to make it stronger. Unfortunately, this material is more difficult to mechanically recycle. Vinyl recycling is currently exploring the possibility of recycling or converting this material into a new product as well.

If you plan to use an item for water activities and it needs to be inflated by mouth, it is recyclable. If one of these questions is answered no, it cannot be recycled. For example, if an air bed is used in a tent and has a soft PET top layer, it is not intended for water fun and cannot be recycled. However, if the airbed is meant for pool use, it can be recycled!


What happens to the material?

In Lelystad, all the material is checked and processed. To begin with, the material is separated into pure PVC and PVC with PET backing. Then the pure PVC load is shredded and ground into a fine, colored fraction. This fraction is then stored in large bags. If a producer can use this load as a feedstock, he can choose to receive it as grinded material or as granulate. If the producer wants it as granules, an additional step of extrusion will be added.

Good to know

The soft variegated PVC cannot be reduced to a light color and that the producer wants to add as little material as possible to produce a new product.
It is also better for the environment to take as few steps as possible in recycling waste into new raw material.

Also good to know

Whether the material is crushed, micronized or granular depends on what kind of product will be made from it and what mechanical recycling is required.
The recycling of material serves to prepare and reprocess it for reuse.

I want to join this movement!

We learned a lot from the pilot, especially what not to do! Although we are not a logistics company and do not have our own trucks, we are experts in processing PVC materials and have a lot of knowledge in this field. We collaborate with European manufacturers and processors, so we are up to date with the latest technologies.

Projects such as this raise our profile and provide a steady stream of outlets, giving us budget to focus on streams that are currently not easily processed. Are you participating in the circular economy? We aim to reach at least 60 streets this summer, instead of the original 30!

Want to know more? Get in touch!