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Breakthroughs with recycling advertising banners in Australia
For several months, a dedicated team led by the Vinyl Council has been making progress with the challenges of recycling advertising billboard skins. The team has achieved critical breakthrough results, some world ‘firsts’ and gained positive support from industry.
Currently over 1,200,000 m2 (500 tonnes) of advertising billboard skins go to landfills around Australia every year at a significant cost to business and as a waste of durable materials. Having promoted the latest blockbuster movie or a government safety message, the skins take up valuable space in landfills.
The challenge is that the skins are made of two excellent polymers (vinyl as a coating over woven polyester) which are hard to separate and reprocess - which is exactly why they are so suited for all weathers and conditions; they are UV and tear-resistant, waterproof, colour-fast, can be welded and are very tough. This is similar for other vinyl coated fabrics, including truck tarpaulins and grain covers, all of which currently go to landfill in Australia (total over 6,000 tonnes combined per year) and in most countries around the world.
In Europe, there is a €20M plant used to reprocess such material back to its constituent polymers. That solvent-based technology is not viable in Australia so the only option is to innovate and find economically viable alternative approaches and new products.
To support the research into this challenge, earlier this year the NSW Environment Trust has invested together with industry to enable collaboration between a team of keen and brilliant minds.
“Our team comprises skilled research assistants in chemistry at UNSW, industrial designers at Monash University, highly experienced PVC converters at Welvic Australia, innovative and successful manufacturers in PMG Engineering, and supplier Rojo Pacific who is keen to lead the advertising industry to a more sustainable future” explains Helen Millicer, Manager of the Industry Recycling Strategy at the Vinyl Council of Australia.
Together, the Vinyl Council and the Outdoor Media Association are providing industry-wide engagement and coordination.
“This problem is too big to do it alone and therefore we are delighted to have received funding support from the NSW Environment Trust as part of the NSW EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More initiative” Helen added.
“A grant like this, that supports innovation and reprocessing in Australia, is a game changer. It means that we can manage a focused and properly resourced project with contributing partners to find viable products and end-market alternatives and thereby prevent loss of quality material to landfill.”
The outcome of the funded trials, research and testing has led to two innovative Australian mechanical recycling technologies, one of which is proceeding to patent.
Product design students on the team have produced several prototype industrial designs taking advantage of the features of the material, including highway sound barriers, children’s push bikes, and floor safety mats. Trials have also worked with cut, woven and reformed material and material welded into molds to create a stronger fabric skin. Reprocessed material has been trialled for 3-D printing in another world ‘first’.
These developments have already led to specifications for a packaging product for trial with a major multinational company.
“Importantly, companies in the advertising industry met at an Industry Forum in Sydney in October and have given the green light to continue the project, to collaborate and contribute to finding a viable solution for recycling billboard skins in Australia”.
“We are delighted to have a team of brilliant minds, innovators and leaders in their fields contributing their time, expertise and facilities to find low cost solutions to this world-wide problem and sad waste of materials,” said Helen Millicer.
To complete the project in the next few months, the design prototypes will be finished and exhibited. A report will be published summarising the economics of collection, reprocessing and remaking of the billboard skins and the chemical and mechanical test results.
While this project has focussed on advertising banners in the first instance, it leads to the possibility of applying findings to other coated fabrics.
For more information and photos contact:
0413 875 872, www.vinyl.org.au and http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/grants/2015-problem-waste.htm