At Focus Banners we are Eco worriers and we have decided to do something about the plastic waste we are helping to create!

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” — Gaylord Nelson (Founder of Earth Day)

What do we mean by signage waste?

Our business is based around supplying signage for events. Events are short term by nature and the signage products used are often environmentally unfriendly. An event may last anything from a few hours to a few months but rarely longer. The materials used to promote, signpost and theme the event can take a massive 500 years to decompose and can do untold damage on its journey. This is single use plastic on an industrial level.

Event waste is becoming a consideration for event organisers although often they focus on the rubbish created by their guests rather than the waste they themselves create.

Nostra Culpa (By our fault)

We have been as much ‘part of the problem’ as anyone else but we have resolved to do something about it and we hope to lead the industry in innovating for a sustainable future, particularly short term ‘soft’ signage. We are not 100% ready to let go of the old products. Economic realities dictate that we need to phase out less environmentally friendly options, or find solutions to them.

What is environmentally unfriendly about event signage?

Let’s look at the two main products used at events:

PVC Banner and Banner Mesh are terrible for the environment.

PVC has revolutionised the signage industry. Things unthinkable 20 years ago are now commonplace and it is mainly thanks to Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). This is not all bad. Some amazing things have been achieved with plastics. Car and bus wraps, window and floor stickers, billboards, and banners have all been made possible by that compound. The results from a print perspective are phenomenal but it can come at a price.

PVC banner and mesh is generally made by coating polyester scrim with a PVC covering. Both of these products are recyclable, but once combined in this form, they are unable to be separated and hence, unable to be recycled. The simple fact is that if you are using this product for your event, it is going to end up in landfill or burned. There is no other solution or commercial reuse.

We still use pvc mesh but we are actively trying to find a solution, not only for the signage industry, but for all the other businesses which rely on it.

Corflute is hard to recycle

Corflute is a very versatile and fairly tough product made from Polypropylene (PP). In small quantities its capacity for reuse is infinitely greater than its ability to be recycled. Some recyclers in Australia will take industrial quantities of corflute as long as it has no foreign materials like vinyl stickers or eyelets. It is not realistic for most events to have a few pallets of uncontaminated PP in the form of corflute so the vast majority of it goes into landfill.

What green signage options are available?

One of the sustainable signage options we use is polyester. Polyester banners can replace banner mesh. We have a wide range of products that perform the same, or in some cases better than the environmentally questionable vinyl alternative.

From a visual perspective polyester can do nearly everything that pvc can do. Polyester applications are much broader from flags and banners to lightbox displays and pop up gazebos. But the best thing about polyester is that it is 100% recyclable. In its recycled form it is high quality and able to be reused countless times. The energy savings in recycling against the producing the raw product are up to 88%. Little wonder companies like Coca Cola and H&M are making very large commitments to using RPET.

What many people don’t know about polyester is that it is the same chemical compound that makes the plastic bottles that we drink from (Polyethylene Terephthalate or PET). This is a very easy plastic to recycle.

We are still waiting for Australia’s first polyester recycling plant but it is very close.  In the meantime Focus Banners will take back any polyester banners you buy from us to be recycled in the very near future.

Waterproof Cardboard can replace corflute

The wonderfully named Oppboga Outdoor Board is an ideal green replacement for PP corflute signage.  It is 100% recyclable, can be put in council recycling bins, and is even sourced from FSC forests.

Whilst not as strong as corflute it can be used outside for up to 12 weeks and the print quality is just as good. Oppboga board can be cut into standard or custom shapes.

If it has to be corflute then Focus will take any corflute ordered from us. We will remove the eyelets and combine it with our other clients to take to recycling in bulk.

Come and join us in our circular exploits

At Focus Banners we are making a commitment to ourselves, to our clients and to the environment. We believe in recyclable signs although plastic use in signage is virtually unavoidable . We choose the lesser of evils wherever we can in recommending closed loop signage. With polyester we know that we will not be adding to the estimated 95% of all plastics that end up in landfill.  We are stepping away from single use and stepping toward the circular economy. We encourage all our clients to rethink their signage with a view to reducing the amount of waste going into landfill. We love the idea of reusing event branding in creative ways and we recommend replacing single use alternatives with closed loop recyclables.

“The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.”— John Paul II

We would love to hear from you whether you have suggestions on how we can make signage more environmentally friendly. If you would like more information on what we do and our polyester stewardship program please contact us here.

Events can generate a lot of waste and co2 emissions and this includes branding and signage. We have put this guide together to show if a signage product can be recycled and where it can be recycled.

Be wary that some products claim to be recyclable but the pathway to recycling is not available in Australia – this makes the product landfill. We hope that event organisers use this guide to plan environmentally responsible events. We have included greener products where possible. We have also included the option to hire signs or promotional items where available.

This has been prepared by Focus Banners but the guide applies Australia wide. Note that polyester banners can be recycled via Bannerloop which the proprietary recycling system of Focus Banners. We will recycle any polyester purchased from us.

Signage Recyclability

APPLICATIONMATERIALRECYCLEPATHSUBSTITUTEHIRE
Banner (short term)PolyesterYesRecycle via BannerloopNA*No
Banner (long term)PVC Mesh or BannerNoLandfillPolyester Mesh or PolyesterNo
BillboardsPVC BannerNoLandfillNA*No
CCB Covers
(short term)
PolyesterYesRecycle via BannerloopNA*No
CCB Cover
(long term)
PVC BannerNoLandfillPolyesterNo
Signs & CutoutsCorflute
(PVC Sticker)
NoLandfillOutdoor Display BoardNo
Signs & CutoutsOutdoor Display BoardYesKerbside recyclingNA*No
Signs & CutoutsFoam BoardNoLandfillOutdoor Display BoardNo
Teardrop, Feather, Rectangle FlagsFibreglass Pole
----
Polyester Skin
YesPolyester via BannerloopNA*No
Flags Street Pole
(Polyester)
PolyesterYesPolyester via BannerloopNA*No
Flags Street PolePVC BannersNoLandfillPolyester No
Flags Street Pole
(Vinyl)
PVC bannerNoLandfillPolyesterNo
Floor graphicsSelf Adhesive VinylNoLandfillNA*No
Printed Carpet and MatsVariousNoLandfillNA*No
Pull Up BannersAluminium
----
Propylene
Yes
----
No
Metal recycler
----
Landfill
NA*No
Pull Up BannersBambooNoLandfillNA*No
Pull Up Banner
(Bamboo)
Wood (renewable)
----
Polypropylene skin
NoLandfillNA*No
Media WallAluminium frameYesMetal recyclerNA*Yes
A-Frame Sign
(AC Panel)
Steel and AluminiumYesMetal recyclerInset StandNo
Signboard
(permanent)
Aluminium Composite PanelYesMetal recyclerNA*No
A-Frame Sign
(inset type)
Steel
----
Outdoor Display Board
or Corflute
Yes
----
Yes
Metal recycler
----
Kerbside for Outdoor Board 
or Astron Sustainabilty
NA*No
Signs and Cutouts
(short term)
Outdoor Display BoardYesKerbside recyclingNA*No
Pop Up SignsPolyesterYesPolyester to BannerloopNA*No
Branded GazebosAluminium
----
Polyester/Acrylic
Yes
----
No
Metal Recycler
----
Polyester via Bannerloop
NA*Yes
InflatablesThermoplasticsNoLandfillNA*Yes
UmbrellasSteel or Aluminium
----
Polyester or Acrylic
Yes
----
No
Metal Recycler
----
Polyester to Bannerloop
NA*Yes
Cafe BarriersSteel
----
PVC Banner
Yes
----
No
Metal recycler
----
Landfill
NA*No
Branded FurnitureWood (renewable)
----
Polyester seat
No
----
Yes
Landfill
----
Recycle via Bannerloop
NA*Yes
Cable TiesNylonNoLandfillToggle TiesNo
Toggle TiesPolypropyleneNoLandfillNA*No
Chair Covers, Hay Bale Covers, Truss Covers, Stage Backgrounds, Bin CoversPolyesterYesRecycle via BannerloopNA*No
ScrimPVC MeshNoLandfillPolyester MeshNo
ScrimPolyester MeshYesRecycle via BannerloopNA*No
Table ClothsPolyesterYesRecycle via BannerloopNA*No
Promotional CountersPVC counter
----
PVC Graphic
NoLandfillNA*No
Display Stands
Slimline
Aluminium
----
Polypropylene
Yes
----
No
Metal recycler
----
Landfill
NA*Yes
Toblerone Bollard
Signs
Direct Print
Corflute
YesAstron Sustainability in industrial quantitiesOutdoor Display BoardNo
Wall and Window
Graphics
Self Adhesive VinylNoLandfillNA*No

Corflute, or corrugated plastic signboard as it is otherwise known, is a wonderfully durable material. Able to withstand the elements, completely waterproof and tough in very strong winds. It is a very widely used material in the signage industry from real estate signs to election signs.

As we drive past all those election signs we have to wonder if politicians and political aspirants are being responsible with the signs they use to promote themselves.

The argument for coreflute signs

The greatest argument for coreflute signs is their durability. They will outlast the longest political campaign by years. Elections are generally short-lived affairs with candidates and parties getting limited time to prepare their campaigns and woo voters.  These days political campaigns are truly integrated marketing campaigns spanning print media, social media, radio, television and out of home (OOH) signage.

Corflute is the most common form of out of home election signage and it needs to last the duration of the campaign. No matter what weather gets thrown at it, corflute will most likely come through undamaged.

That is good news for candidates, and somewhat for the environment. Fluted plastics midterm durability means they do not need to be replaced potentially saving the plastic required to replace them and the emissions in installing new signs.

Corflute is made from polypropylene which can be recycled and reformed into itself. It also has a wide range of reuse applications from protecting floors to lining planter boxes.

The argument against coreflute signs

Corflute signs are inescapably plastic. Polypropylene is formed from non-renewable oil. Despite its durability, it will degrade when exposed to UV creating microplastic waste.

It is recyclable but there are limited recyclers and getting the post-use product to the recycler is complicated and costly. Normal waste streams like curbside rubbish removal cannot handle corflute signs. They are a contaminant in the plastic waste stream (whatever that is in Australia).

Signs can only be recycled if they are free of foreign objects like eyelets or stakes. Many of these signs are made by applying a PVC sticker to the face of the corflute – this renders the plastic unrecyclable.

So corflute can be recycled if ALL the following conditions are met:

  • It is direct printed and not sticker applied
  • Eyelets, stickers and stakes are removed
  • It is bundled into industrial quantities (ie palletised)
  • It is delivered to the recycling plant

Most council waste streams will not have a dedicated collection for corflute. The truth is election signs will end up in landfill. Our leaders either willfully or ignorantly ignore this inconvenient truth, Greens included.

How to fix this situation?

Aside from the obvious cure of changing to signs made from renewable products which can be recycled in the normal waste stream there is something that can be done.

Reducing the number of signs a politician is allowed to display would be the most obvious and would also level the field (if you are into that type of thing). Reducing the size would be another. Most election signs are 600mm x 900mm but one half the size would contain the same message. Dare we say less signs may actually look better given the clutter elections can create.

Ultimately councils are responsible for setting rules as to what happens within their boundaries. Waste disposal is one area of government that rests firmly with councils, as does the use of signs. So when the federal government comes knocking and placing a billion signs around their area, they are well within their rights to tell them where they are allowed to display them, how many they are allowed to display, what size they should be and how they need to be recycled.

Councils should take an active role in recording and ensuring that candidates that display signs, also handle them responsibly after they are used. Election sign stewardship is not the most impractical idea and one that should be run in every council for every election.

Alternatives to corflute

Outdoor paper board is viable alternative to corrugated plastic.  Boards such as Oppboga or Katz board are specifically designed to last outdoors.  These signs are not meant to last 500 years, just around 12 weeks or the amount of time it takes to run an election campaign. They are sourced from responsibly farmed forests and are recycled in the curbside waste streams. Unlike corflute, outdoor paperboard is completely renewable.

Candidates tend to get on a roll with corflute because it is cheap to produce, so signs that could be paper posters become corrugated plastic.

Alarmed at the waste created by single use cable ties at Ironman events, James Ray, Manager Partner Services at Ironman Australia thought there had to be a better way.  

“At Noosa Tri alone we were collecting two council bins full of spent cable ties. Not only was there a financial burden in disposing of them but it was very sad to see all that waste. The toggles have enabled us to set up and unpack so much quicker”

Ironman Australia and Focus Banners have shared values on waste, particularly derived from signage and single use plastics.  As a local Noosa business we have been able to work with Ironman on sustainable solutions to event signage. Ironman’s involvement means we get the benefit of their experience in event management. Not only do the products we produce for them have to be sustainable but they must also be easy to install and remove. James was the driving force behind the toggles which are now spreading via local councils and major events across Australia and New Zealand.

Advantages of toggle ties over cable ties

Banner toggle ties have a few major advantages over the alternative cable ties:

  1. Toggle ties are infinitely reusable. Cable ties are single use. Toggle Ties equal less landfill.
  2. Attaching and removing toggle ties takes about a quarter of the time as cable ties, reducing bump in and out times.
  3. Toggle ties utility means they are more economical than cable ties in the medium-long term.
  4. There is no cost to disposing of cable ties at each event.
  5. Banners and CCB covers actually present better. The stretch of the toggle tie allows the banner to stretch evenly in the wind. Wrinkles and pulls are less prevalent so banners look better.

“The toggle ties worked really well and definitely reduced the amount of plastic cable ties required at our event. They were easy to use and would recommend the toggles to anyone considering purchasing or looking for ways to minimise single use plastics.” Laura Dunn – Coordinator Events – City of Ryde

What are cable ties made from?

Nylon cable ties for banner installation are always single use. At this stage nylon is non-recyclable in Australia. The most widely used method of attaching banners also means cutting off the long tag end to keep it neat. This tag end often ends up on the ground so does not even make it to landfill.

Nylon is actually recylable but Australia has cut its bridges with sending contaminated waste overseas. It is a bit off topic but we love anything which reuses or up-cycles plastics. I found this great use for recycled nylon in researching this post.

Can toggle ties be recycled?

Bungee ball ties are made from two materials. The polyester coated latex bungee cord is non recyclable. The second is the Polypropylene ball which already has some recycled PP in it. Theoretically the balls are recyclable as PP however in practice it is unlikely they will pass through the kerbside sorting process. Luckily toggle ties can reused countless times. We hope that technology beats the toggle tie to landfill and that a recyclable solution presents itself.

Where to buy toggle ties?

Banner toggle ties are available in packs of 100 in 11mm cord length (for crowd control barriers with 25mm tube) and 15mm cords (for temporary fencing with larger tubing). The basic product comes in black although larger orders can have custom colours. Around 10 toggle ties are required for each CCB cover assuming all the eyelets are used.  An order of 10,000 would constitute a customisable colour.

For more information please visit our toggle tie page.

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.

Welcome to our own closed loop system for recycling polyester banners called Bannerloop.

 

Focus Banners operates our own polyester banner recycling or stewardship program. We accept 100% of the spent polyester banners you buy from us. We combine these with those of our other customers. Once we have enough feedstock, we send all the spent polyester for recycling. The recyclers convert the polyester back to its PET form. They can use rPET (recycled PET) pellets to produce a variety post consumer products. In fact,Coca Cola is committed to using 50% rPET in manufacturing their bottles by 2030.

 

Polyester mesh is the most common product for banner recycling. Polymesh is best suited for applications like event scrim, temporary fence banners, short term outdoor banners, flags or crowd control barrier covers.

 

Our Bannerloop recycling scheme is a closed loop system. The polyester can be recycled as itself (or PET) rather than up or down-cycling into another product. This diverts plastics out of landfill that could take up to 500 years to degrade. Ultimately meaning less virgin plastic enters the environment. By switching from traditional PVC banners to polyester banners our clients are contributing to a more sustainable industry.

 

Polyester is a very versatile print stock able to fulfil the branding requirements of most events. It is ideal for short term use.  The print life is not as long as some other substrates however long term coated polyesters are not as easily recycled. Billboard banner and banner mesh fall into this category.

 

Like the delivery that got them to our clients in the first place, Bannerloop returns are 100% carbon offset with credits fromSouth Pole. Clients don’t even need to use our courier. We weigh the returned banners and calculate the distance the consignment has travelled to offset the carbon at no extra cost.

 

We remove the eyelets and non-recyclable components from the returned banners. The polyester is then sent to the recycling plant to become tomorrow’s Coke bottles (or whatever lies in store for them).

 

We urge our clients to rethink their impact on the environment and choose products which are less environmentally damaging. Please get in touch with us if you would like to know more about our Bannerloop program or any of our other products.