Credit: Illustration: Kyle T. Webster

Bill Flanigan, owner of The Window Store, in Marquette, Mich., would love to recycle the windows his company removes from its jobs. But, he says, "We couldn't come up with anybody who would take them, even if we removed the glass."

Most companies take on the responsibility of disposing of the windows they remove. That can amount to thousands of mostly wood or metal windows a year, though the percentage of vinyl among discarded windows is increasing, some contractors say. Flanigan says that about 20% of what he removes are low-cost vinyl windows installed by builders.

Committed to Recycling

Others share the desire to recycle. Dean Kirchner, owner of Kirchner Siding & Windows, in Owatonna, Minn., is a big believer. His company recycles paper, cans, and bottles ? everything but windows. "As far as I know," he says, "there's nobody around who'll take them."

Most old windows end up in landfills. Not only is there a lack of recycling operations that specialize in windows and doors, but breaking windows into recyclable components is dangerous and time-consuming. That's what Regency Windows found when it instituted a recycling program at its Twinsburg, Ohio, location. "We've been committed to energy efficiency and the environment for a long time," president/CEO David Gordon says. "But getting the window part of our waste stream handled was a bear."

Last summer Regency Windows started a program to break down and recycle windows brought back to its warehouse facility. Using one dedicated employee to separate out wood, glass, and metal, it was able to find a recycler to turn old glass into fiberglass insulation. Gordon says the company has recycled more than 300,000 pounds of glass and metal in the last year at a cost that "works for us."

Vinyl Future

Only a small percentage of the windows that window replacement companies remove are vinyl. But that number is likely to increase.

Flanigan, for instance, says he expects that the roughly 20% vinyl tear-outs will grow to 30% soon. It was with vinyl window discards in mind that, a little more than a year ago, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) issued a white paper on the possibility of recycling vinyl windows. "The viability is there," says Kevin Seiling, director of corporate engineering/strategic sales for manufacturer Veka, which helped to create the document for the AAMA.

He predicts that during the next decade companies will institute "voluntary" recycling programs and that businesses will emerge that act as receiving centers for used windows and doors.