PVC: waste no-one wantsAs more customers demand that printers take back their used graphics, the issue of how to responsibly dispose of PVC is becoming a real headache. So should the consumables suppliers be doing more to help you?
Calls for a regional, if not national, waste PVC collection scheme and responsible disposal scheme are getting louder but as yet there's none in place. That's hardly surprising when you consider the complexity of the issue. Suppliers are not deaf to the cries for help, but on the whole prefer to focus on developing 'green' alternatives to PVC - where there's longer term revenue gains - rather than tackle disposal, the need for which is expected to decline as legislation forces the market to move away from PVC use altogether. But keeping customers happy short term is a necessity for suppliers too so there is thought being given to the subject.
"It certainly is a difficult issue that the whole industry should be waking up to and we support the idea of moving towards a collective response. However, there isn't a straightforward solution to this problem," points out Andy Voss, managing director, Madico Graphic Films. "And it raises a number of additional questions that further complicate the issue and highlight the inconvenient truth. Just how PVC should be disposed of is an important concern. Dumping materials like PVC into landfill sites - typically the most widely deployed method of disposal - presents its own problems, but incineration isn't always a viable option either.
"For now, manufacturers and suppliers can strive towards eradicating the issues surrounding hazardous material disposal before they even arise. This means complying to current and future legislation by adopting production processes that eliminate, or reduce as far as possible, substances with a negative environmental impact."
Steve Lister, business development director at Robert Horne Sign and Display, says he's spent the last two years the industry's governing bodies, manufacturers, sign, screen, digital and POS providers as well as end-users to fully understand their requirements of how they can balance being green but also deliver a sound business proposition. One of the most discussed topics has been recycling of the materials that we all use, the most difficult being PVC.
"It's not that PVC is difficult to recycle, it's that the market for collecting and recycling PVC is conspiring against us," he says. "The UK uses over 5m tonnes of plastic each year of which an estimated 19% is currently being recovered or recycled. This figure is expected to increase significantly to over 25% of the all plastics consumed in the UK by 2010. So it makes good competitive, economic and environmental sense to start building a robust environmental and recycling strategy that covers the initial designs, the materials and the manufacturing processes used right throughout the supply chain.
"I can hear the customers saying 'Green is good but I am not going to pay any more for it.' Well in most cases that just isn't viable, there are costs involved with becoming more environmentally friendly. That means they're probably still using PVC. So we have to take a look at what it takes to recycle PVC - which leads onto why getting a 'green' disposal programme off the ground is a problem.
"PVC is an extremely versatile product. Recycled responsibly PVC is no worse than any other plastic. But therein lies a problem for print providers. PVC is manufactured in vast quantities; therefore the costs are low as the economics of manufacturing apply. So PVC substrates are cheap in comparison to a lot of 'greener' alternatives. But, the waste values for waste PVC are low due to the volumes of waste available and the low-grade products which can be re-manufactured from waste PVC. The understanding is that PVC loses a significant amount of its strength the first time it is recycled which immediately limits its demand. Also, unless PVC is segregate into white unprinted and mixed colours and printed waste then it can only be turned into a black product. The waste industry calls this mixed waste 'Jazz' and when recycled will go back to a dark grey colour which then has a one percent master black batch added to make it into a consistent colour. There is a huge over capacity of black product in the market, again lowering PVC waste values which makes it uneconomic to collect and re-manufacture.
John Haines, general manager of print industry waste collection specialist J&G Environmental says it is currently "investigating to see if there any recycling possibilities that may make these materials a viable proposition, both for the printer and for the waste management company. If the results of our investigations are positive it may go some way towards solving the collection problem." We can only hope.