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Tue, Jan

The elephant in the room

All things environmental may be climbing up the agenda, but we have to face it - more needs to be done to engage with the waste industry if this sector is to really improve its green credentials.

There has been a ‘call to environmental arms’ for some time now within the wide-format sector, with with an ever-increasing sense of duty and requirement pushing things on. There have been welcome advances by suppliers focusing on eco-friendly media, and in uptake of those products, and buy-in to more sustainable behaviours by PSPs. The environmental agenda is clearly a priority and the whole supply chain is eager to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. But there’s an elephant in the room - the sector’s relationship with, and the aims of, the waste and recycling industry.

As Jon Hutton of Prismm points out: “Until we have a workable, sector-wide recycling service, all the hard work, eco-friendly media, brand marketing about ‘made from 100% recyclable material’ is just that - marketing with no ‘final destination’ accountability. This is because by far in a way the biggest problem is that the waste and recycling Industry is not geared up to collect small volumes of these substrates for processing and then recycling.”

He adds: “A common misconception is that a waste contractor’s primary concern is the environment. The reality is that they are focused on making profit like any other business, and waste is just their mechanism for doing that. Handling small amounts of waste is not cost effective, and waste from large-format print is most definitely small volume relative to the vast majority of domestic and other commercial wastes processed by the companies that collect our general waste bins. Much of this media is also low in value as a waste, based on weight, handling and processing costs involved. High tech municipal recycling facilities may capture some media types, but these are not common throughout the UK. All this may paint a bleak picture, but things are happening to change that.

“The key to recycling success is joined-up thinking by suppliers, distributors, and printers, to work with recycling specialists. Thankfully, that is starting to happen, and we are seeing far a better-educated supply chain, capable of making informed decisions on end-of-life media disposal strategies. As re-processors tend not to offer small-scale collect services, mapping and implementing collection services is the key.

“This is the exact approach Antalis is taking for instance - creating environmental platforms and engaging with customers regarding eco-friendly media options, whilst working alongside Prismm Environmental [which specialises in recycling on behalf of the printing industry] to supply actual solutions.

“Vuflex and Soyang are two other suppliers that use this approach and have their PVC banner waste collected, shredded, and used as either equestrian bedding in the UK or converted into secondary PVC products. These collection services are being utilised at print sites throughout the country, but it’s clear that UK’s mainstream waste industry currently has no infrastructure to offer wide-format media recycling solutions produced in small volumes.

“The supply chain needs to come together and use the ‘power of print’ to perhaps sway the waste industry - but the commercials will always be paramount, so building and using specialist recycling services looks like the  best way forward.

“To this end Prismm is working with a number of large-format printers directly on a number of new waste management fronts, and on a new scheme - championed by BPIF - for early 2021 roll out.

“The objectives include a nationwide collection infrastructure for recycling rigid polypropylenes and acrylics, flexible PVC’s and polyester re-use, cardboard and polythene recycling, and ensuring each scheme member is achieving the waste hierarchy as required by environmental law.

“The scheme will be open to all printers - regardless of BPIF membership - and each will receive annual certification.

“It’s crucial we work together to ensure we continue to build on all the hard work that continues to take place to make print more environmentally-friendly, and to take the opportunity to promote wide-format to customers as a credible, sustainable option.”

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