Green alternatives and sustainable practice of PVC - Image Magazine


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Green alternatives and sustainable practice of PVC

Green alternatives and sustainable practice of PVC

Companies are increasingly committed to good corporate citizenship and reducing the impact their business has on the environment. Print buyers are becoming more interested in the products and processes that are used to produce their advertising and branding campaigns as well as what happens to the material post campaign. More buyers are requesting solutions that are environmentally friendly, recyclable, biodegradable or compostable

Today there is a lot of focus on waste, in particular plastic waste. The plastics industry is under the microscope and the rising backlash against plastic has been driven by the single use plastic market, such as plastic bags, food, beverage and other packaging where due to irresponsible disposal methods we see an increasing impact of plastic waste in our environment, particularly on the oceans and marine life. Plastic is used because it is durable and as such, once let loose in the environment, becomes an enduring problem, slowly degrading into micro-plastics, potentially releasing toxins and ending up contaminating water ways, marine life and the environment  in general.

We generate mountains of plastic waste that take hundreds of years to break down in landfills and are faced with the burgeoning problem of how to deal with it compounded by the fact that while many plastics can be recycled, they are not because people don’t bother - the financial incentives to recycle and resell recycled materials are limited and gaps in technology and infrastructure in Australia and New Zealand to collect and process waste. Waste that is shipped offshore may relieve us of the burden but is not always a guarantee of responsible disposal and it just becomes someone else’s problem. It is easy to see why plastic is getting a bad rap and industries and consumers are motivated to find alternative solutions.

So where does that leave us? We are an industry that heavily relies on plastic as a print substrate for graphic production. In a world that is waging a war on plastic, it may seem like what we do and the eco conscious movement are diametrically opposed.  Customers want eco friendly solutions but the reason they come to us is because their primary need is for visual communication or decorative applications that perform to the requirements of their campaign. As an industry can we exercise environmental responsibility while also servicing our client’s primary needs? The answer is yes we can but the first step is to understand what products we are using, the impact of these products and also the value of these products during their service life.

The first thing to know is that all plastics are not the same. There are a multitude of variations in composition and engineering, each with their own use and varying degrees of impact on the environment.

In the wide format print market the most commonly used plastic is polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is one of the most economical and durable plastics which is why it is the most popular choice. PVC is cheap, diverse in use, easy to manufacture, chemically resistant and long lasting. The problem is that PVC is also one of the most controversial plastics. PVC can be difficult to recycle and there are many concerns about the damage PVC can have on the environment due to its composition and when it breaks down. In order to make PVC fit for use in our industry in the form of a flexible film for self adhesive vinyl, additives and stabilisers must be added and there are also concerns that these in themselves can be harmful to human health and the environment both in processing and when they leach out into the environment.

The challenge is finding green alternative materials that perform to the same level, are as durable and not price prohibitive.

For the short term and interior decorative market this is easy. There are an increasing variety of products that are ideal for this market segment. Non PVC adhesive films can be used for point of sale, displays, promotional window graphics, wall murals and other interior markings when protected from UV. These applications don’t rely on the unique features of PVC for performance. They produce quality print results and have a greener footprint in terms of composition, their ability to break down more quickly in landfill and recyclability. As the turnover of these campaigns is high, more waste is generated so using environmentally friendly alternatives is a real benefit.

The bigger challenge is for the long term market – corporate signage, branding and vehicle wrapping. Here self adhesive PVC is the most durable, high performing, accessible and economical option. While there is concern around PVC in general, in our market long term signage and graphics is not a high waste market. These products are designed to last for years and are therefore not entering the waste stream as regularly as other plastic products of concern. It is also unlikely that films used for signs and graphics will end up in the ocean or loose in the environment as much more responsible disposal methods are used compared to the consumer plastics market.

Also there are other things you can do to further ensure the responsible use of PVC.

Encourage or incentivise your customers to have their signs and graphics removed before end of life. As PVC starts to break down it becomes brittle, can crack, flake and start to peel. This risks fragments of PVC entering the environment. Responsible disposal should always  be employed.

Buy your PVC from reputable manufacturers. This will ensure not only that the film will last and perform but also that the film meets environmental standards. Reputable manufacturers are committed to environmental legislation, like REACH, to ensure that their products not only meet  standards regarding the chemical composition of their products but that their raw material sourcing and manufacturing processes respect the environment and the health and safety of their workers.

Materials need to be chosen based on their merits in terms of performance, cost and environmental impact. In this way we can as an industry improve our environmental responsibility though material selection while also respecting the level of service and performance our customers require.


Written by Denise Kirby

Denise Kirby has over 27 years experience as a supplier of self adhesive products to the sign and print industry. Initially starting out in the family business as a distributor of  consumables she went on to work for leading self adhesive manufacturers in marketing , business and product development roles across Australia and New Zealand.  She now has her own business, Kirbyco, which focuses on environmentally friendly, recyclable and sustainable print solutions.

Denise is highly passionate about the industry and enjoys writing about applications and opportunities in print in and signage with the goal of inspiring people to explore new creative and functional opportunities with film as well as educating the industry on products, trends and new innovations.

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