Tue, Aug

What do you do with your PVC banner waste?

Earlier this summer this sector saw a breakthrough - Soyang and waste partner Blue Castle announced a scheme for recycling PVC banner material. Gardners, a test site, has been impressed. So should you be getting in on the act?

In June we brought you news of the PVC Banner Recycling Scheme, a collaboration between printable materials manufacturer and distributor Soyang Europe and waste and recycling expert Blue Castle Group. Given its potential impact on the large-format print sector it seems only sensible to delve beyond the headline making info published at its launch.

Stemming from discussions that started around three years ago between the two companies, the new scheme came about as a solution to meet the needs of an industry that both parties had independently identified - how to use the best material for the print job yet hit the environmental credentials that clients were starting to require?

“The PVC Banner Recycling Scheme is the natural extension of Soyang Europe’s business ethos - it’s simply the right thing to do,” says Mark Mashiter, managing director at Soyang Europe. “It enables our customers to supply and support their clients, who predictably include major high street retailers, FMCG brands and exhibition companies, all with a similar desire to be environmentally accountable.

“Our close relationships both with PSPs and our manufacturing partners enables us to communicate each party’s requirements up and down the supply chain. Introducing an environmentally sound disposal solution for one of the most challenging substrates has been a long road but seeing the initial response and positive uptake of our test sites has made it all worthwhile,” he continues.

Initial work on the project was started over a decade ago by Blue Castle’s now innovations manager Gary Howe. He identified the significant volumes of printed PVC banner material being created, how it was being utilised relatively temporarily, the challenges faced with it going to landfill and also the volume of unprinted, scrap offcuts.

“Most materials were being baled and exported. It’s difficult to incinerate because of the toxic fumes it generates and proposed disposal solutions with contractors would seem to stop as soon as they started,” recounts Howe. “The amount of waste was staggering - hundreds of tonnes a month being created within the graphics and display industry and as time went on, it became apparent that the industry simply wasn’t evolving.”

Blue Castle formed a strategic partnership with the teams at the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York and Matrix Recycling Systems to develop the solution and entered its open funding ‘Plastics Innovation’ competition in June 2018. Announced as the winners the following December, they successfully secured Innovate UK Innovation grant funding to support the project, resulting in the company designing and developing a pilot plant to demonstrate its capability to the market.

Investment in premises, a range of machinery (that pre- and post-process the material as well as shreds it) and intensive trials throughout 2018 led to a workable solution to enable end users to assist in the trial in early 2019, delivering ‘second life’ uses for the processed material that were then approved by partners in a variety of sectors.

Subsequent invitations to high profile events, including attendance at the UK Knowledge Transfer Network’s ‘Addressing the Plastics Challenge’ evening reception at the House of Lords continue to position Blue Castle at the forefront of the industry, with a guest appearance tabled on the UK Circular Plastics Network stand at the Recycling and Waste Management exhibition in the autumn.

 “With the launch of the PVC Banner Recycling Scheme, Blue Castle is now in a position to offer sustainable solutions for recycling the vast majority of the materials used in the display graphics industry,” says Howe. “We’re working with a number of partners to give recycling product second and even third lives, with a zero to landfill goal that offers a truly sustainable process.”

Four print companies across the UK have taken part in initial trials, including Gardners in south Wales (see panel). The scheme already has over 20 signed up participants, and both Soyang Europe and Blue Castle are expecting this to increase dramatically. “Unsurprisingly, interest in the scheme has been substantial,” says Mashiter. “We’re receiving multiple enquiries every day so we’re delighted with the eagerness from the print industry to be part of the scheme.”

Aside from the obvious environmental advantages, with landfill costing upwards of £130 per tonne and rising annually, there are financial benefits to the scheme for PSPs if they can avoid simply disposing of their waste, but monetising the reprocessed material has also helped make the project more viable for Blue Castle. 

“The challenges in delivering the scheme were substantial,” says the company’s head of R&D, Stuart Darke. “Not apart from the requirement to develop a mechanical process, we made significant advances in designing a process that was specifically targeted at difficult to recycle, highly plasticised flexible PVC materials as it needs to recover PVC in a Reach compliant form and convert the additives to a valuable by-product.”

Reach regulations restrict the use of certain chemicals (known as ortho-phthalates) which historically were used as plasticisers for numerous plastic products. “We were mindful of the need to achieve the necessary reduction in content of these additives in our output recycled product,” confirms Darke.

“With the PVC Banner Recycling Scheme, we’ve made significant strides in developing a new method of recycling PVC materials including composite products into both a purer recycled product and achieving Reach compliance by conversion of legacy plasticisers and additives into other high value outputs,” he concludes.

The scheme also acts as a springboard for assisting print companies with other areas of their business, as Marie Harley, Blue Castle’s CEO explains. “We’re able to audit not only the PVC waste aspect of PSPs but their total waste and energy requirements. Working closely with Soyang Europe’s team, we’ve been able to guide their customers in a variety of areas that affect their day-to-day business. The PVC Banner Recycling Scheme is a significant area of change for them all, but other aspects such as utility management, energy use and additional recycling opportunities have brought positive results throughout.”

So, what is the next step for an industry sector needing to green-up as part of a wider supply chain?

As Mashiter points out: “We have to be mindful of the fact that for some applications, responsibly using PVC is the right solution for a particular job, matching a customer’s requirements with the most appropriate material - so the recycling scheme closes the loop.

“With the PVC Banner Recycling Scheme, we’re trying to foster a feeling of collaboration, working together to overcome some important obstacles. This is everyone’s responsibility and it’s an industry-wide issue - we need companies to get on board to make it work right across the print sector.

“Soyang Europe is taking a practical and responsible stance on what happens to a product when it’s used in its original form. Secondarily, we’re also strong advocates of environmentally friendly solutions - offering materials such as Senfa’s display fabrics that are made from recycled yarns - effectively using a raw material in its ‘second life’.”

As the roll-out of the new recycling scheme gathers pace, Mashiter says: “We’re simply echoing the far wider feeling of a need to effect change and the PVC Banner Recycling Scheme is a very real embodiment of that. Blue Castle and Soyang Europe are committed to delivering this solution across the industry - many years of hard work, investment and R&D have gone into getting where we are today, so it’s reassuring to see the take-up and enthusiasm from our customers.”

Coming up roses at Gardners                                                          

“We’re living in an age of ‘environmental breakdown’, where eco-initiatives are increasingly at the top of political and societal agendas, with what many feel is a small window of opportunity to prevent further cataclysmic change. Globally we’ve experienced 20 of the warmest years since records began and concentrations of carbon dioxide have not been as high for between 3-5m years. Therefore, improving environmental practices and minimising the impact on what has already become a fragile ecosystem is something that all businesses must be focusing on.” So says Richard Courtney, managing director at Gardners.

Courtney adds: “Within our sector specifically, ISO 4001 has become the ‘norm’ in terms of environmental best practice requirements, however we’ve certainly seen a growing demand for greener print practices that go above and beyond this and anticipate that this will only continue to increase. This is why we were keen to collaborate with Blue Castle and Soyang Europe on the pilot scheme to recycle our PVC. 

“PVC is one of the substrates that has traditionally been challenging in terms of recycling - it’s something we’ve been trying to crack for almost a decade so when we had the opportunity to work together to help refine and put in practice this solution it was a logical step for us.

“As part of the pilot, which has run for just over a year, we have stopped over 95 tonnes of PVC (which makes up 29% of our waste stream) going to landfill and which in turn has been recycled into other products. By rolling this service out across the UK print industry the impact will be phenomenal. 

“We’re proud to have been able to support the pilot and that 90% of our waste is now recycled. Through continuous improvement we’re always working to minimise the environmental impact of what we deliver as a business as much as possible and we’re looking forward to helping those we work with improve their green credentials (as well as our own) even further.”

(See previous IR environment features at: imagereportsmag.co.uk/features/environment)

How the scheme works                                                  

  • Buy Soyang PVC Banner material. Products include laminated, semi-coated, knife coated, blockout and backlit products suitable for wide and grand format printing in thicknesses from 320g up to 720g.

  • Print and supply to your end customer

  • When the banner has come to the end of its intended life, a number of options exist for getting the material to Blue Castle for processing.

    • One option is that Soyang Europe backhauls baled waste material or offcuts following delivery of new banner material, bulks it up to a full articulated lorry load and then delivers to the Blue Castle recycling plant. 

    • Alternatively, a PSP can bale and bulk up the banner material on site and Blue Castle will arrange for a full artic load into the recycling plant.

    • A further option is for Soyang Europe to store the material in storage crates and Blue Castle will carry out a national, multidrop exchange service and bulk up crates in different regions until complete artic loads are ready for deliver to recycling plant.

    • Finally, customers can store the banner themselves and deliver direct to the recycling facility when they’re in the area. The key messages here are flexibility and the desire to minimise the carbon footprint when collecting and transporting the waste material.

  • The waste banner is then processed at Blue Castle’s recycling facility.

  • Finally, the shredded and processed material is given a viable future uses in a range of industries, thanks to Blue Castle’s strong partner relationships in other sectors.





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