Green Signage

PVC Banner and Banner Mesh Recycling

With sustainable products becoming ever more important in business decisions we take look at the future of pvc banner recycling.

PVC Banner Recycling – An overview

 It is amazing to think that a little over one decade ago there were very few PVC covered billboards in Australia. Most billboards were printed on paper and so had to be replaced quite often. This suited billboard companies who were able to change the message just as often. Advances in technology, particularly in the production of plastics, delivered the vinyl banner. Waterproof with incredible print results and longevity, it replaced paper overnight. It also spawned a host of spin-off PVC products such as self-adhesive vinyl and banner mesh.
 
Vinyl billboards could be printed as one sheet and installed with sail track. This improved installation times as well. An all-round better substrate, or was it?
 

Environmental Costs of Vinyl Banners

Vinyl banner combines coating a polyester scrim with a polyvinyl chloride coating. Vinyl is a stiff material that needs plasticiser additives to soften it and keep it flexible. The plasticisers mean banner PVC cannot enter the typical PVC recycling path. 
 
Dennis Collins has done some brilliant work in separating the two PVC from polyester. His chemical process can be used on other plastics as well. The Vinyl Council of Australia has also been active in finding a solution recycling banner. Unfortunately, we are not yet at a stage where soft PVC can be recycled.
 
With no open or closed-loop solution, 100% of the printed PVC banner created by the print and signage industries ends up in landfill.
 

The Scale of the PVC Banner Waste Problem

The life of a billboard is generally a short one. Media companies like to sell billboard space in four week cycles still. The banners are replaced entirely at the end of the cycle.
 
Banner mesh is the same product as PVC banner with perforations. It is even more prevalent in Australia. Building companies use banner mesh to cover their worksites. This provides many benefits, not the least of which is branding but it creates massive amounts of waste as well.
 
At a conservative estimate, around 1000 tons of banner mesh and vinyl banner is buried in landfill every year in Australia. It is unknown how long the PVC takes to degrade but it could be up to 500 years.
 

Is there a PVC banner recycling solution on the horizon?

There is no PVC banner recycling solution available in the short term. New technologies like PVC separation carry the hope for future recycling efforts however there are opportunities to use the unseparated product. At Focus Banners we are looking for repurposing solutions. The brick at the top of the article is one potential solution. Made using shredded banner mesh and common brick ingredients, it could become part of the waste solution.

Are there alternatives to PVC banner?

Despite some pretty wild claims being made the substrates which look to replace PVC banner are far from being able to do just that. In the banner area there are some banners claiming to be green but in actual fact are just different types of plastics. It may be that they are easier to recycle but there is no recycling pathway. In Australia, our current kerbside model does not cater for banner being deposited in it. Even arranging special collections from recyclers would be met with skepticism and would involve industrial quantities. These products are made from polypropylene and don’t quite have the print reproduction qualities as PVC.
Polyester banners can be recycled and repurposed but polyester also has limitations, particularly in print life. Polyester yields amazing print results but is limited in outdoor use due to UV degradation of the print and substrate. We are very excited about our Bannerloop Polyester Stewardship program which will recycle polyester banners we sell.

Does Focus Banners sell banner mesh?

The reality is that vinyl signage is very prevalent and still very useful. It is long-lasting and impossible to replace for some applications. The reality is that if we are not selling PVC banner then we will suffer commercially.  We are however committed to assisting with any effort to recycle PVC banner.  We run a stewardship program for polyester banners and we are actively involved in sourcing repurposing solutions to spent banner.