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After seeing the struggles of the climate crisis over the winter, making changes now is as important as ever. Genevieve Lewis finds out about recycling across the signage industry

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Recycling and having a green attitude is vital

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Climate change is real. Environmental issues are real. Plastic pollution is real. Over the last few months, it has been evident that the Earth is changing, and at a much faster pace than it should be.

As a young person, it is increasingly worrying that some attitudes point towards not caring about the future of others. Changes do need to be made in all senses when it comes to the environment, and many are listening – look at the impact that environmental activist Greta Thunberg is having.

It may be frustrating for some trying to get to work – but the work of Extinction Rebellion across the UK over the last year is just some of the efforts being taken to make voices heard. One does not agree with every action taken by the group, but the points are something to take seriously.

Now, recycling is not a new phenomenon, and many businesses and manufacturers will already have had schemes in place for years. However, with the push towards a more sustainable planet, there has been a growth in schemes and recycling processes.

Perspex Distribution is just one company that makes sure recycling is one of its core responsibilities. “From the start of the production process, Perspex acrylic is manufactured to the highest standard of efficiency and environmental performances – waste and recycled content is a central theme of our environmental responsibility,” says Luke Martyn, marketing manager. “Within the manufacturing process, zero acrylic waste ends up in landfill. Every sheet of Perspex acrylic contains recycled content as we recover waste within the production process and recycle this back into production.”

Within the manufacturing process, zero acrylic waste ends up in landfill. Every sheet of Perspex acrylic contains recycled content

Martyn continues: “Our distribution warehouses use cutting optimisation software to ensure waste material is minimised. Any waste materials will be re-used elsewhere, for example cut into samples or donated to charity, and as a last resort all remaining waste is separated and collected for recycling.”

While Perspex Distribution does not offer a recycling scheme, all of its sheet materials are indeed recyclable and can be recycled using specific partners. “We recommend approved recycling partners for those requiring this service,” says Martyn. “Perspex cast acrylic is unlike most plastics as it can be recycled back to its original raw material.”

Perspex also utilises recycling in the creation of its materials to sell to its customer base – which consists of both sign-makers and printers alike. “Customers seeking recycled materials or substrates with recycled content can find products throughout our range,” explains Martyn, before continuing: “We recently launched a new product called Palboard. Palboard is a co-extruded PVC product featuring a recycled core. Ideal for printers and sign-makers seeking a recycled alternative to existing rigid substrates, the product can also be formed and fabricated.

“We also stock a few ranges of Alupanel Aluminium composite sheets that are manufactured with an LPDE core containing up to 70% recycled content.” Think about this Martyn also notes that customers may take into consideration the environmental credibility of a product when looking to purchase. “Our signage and print customers are prevalent within sectors including retail and construction where the spotlight on the environmental impact of materials is particularly focused,” explains Martyn. “We constantly review our product range and work closely with our manufacturing partners to feedback the evolving environmental requirements within these sectors including demand for recycling initiatives.”

However, there is on thing to think of when it comes to choosing products and that is if it’s not made of recyclable materials, it is not always a bad thing. “Whilst recycling and recycled products are a vital factor in improving the environmental footprint of our industry, it is important that we don’t jump to the assumption that anything non-recycled is necessarily worse than a recycled alternative,” says Martyn.

He continues: “Perspex acrylic for example is manufactured in the UK with 97% efficiencies and minimal wastage, and its properties enable the product to guarantee an external lifespan of over a decade. A recycled alternative substrate may require replacement many times over the same period, thereby creating further waste from disposal or further manufacturing.”

Multipanel UK is a manufacturing partner of Perspex Distribution and has recently invested £3m to build an onsite recycling centre. It will be based on its production facility in Eythorne, near Dover.

Perspex Distribution partner Multipanel UK has invested £3m in an onsite recycling centre

As an aluminium composite producer, Multipanel uses a raw material in its production process – low-density polyethylene (LDPE). To reduce waste and recycle it, the plant will make the waste into LDPE pellets to be used once again.

The new centre will have the capacity to produce 2.4 tonnes of LDPE pellets per hour, which means that it can be used for the core material in some of Multipanel’s Alupanel range of sheets. It is a move that Multipanel UK hopes will result in zero waste from production, as scrap aluminium coil also being sent for recycling and plastics from the production line being recycled at this new in-house facility.

Added environmental benefits of this recycling plant include the need for less energy to melt the plastics down.

Daniel Lewis is the purchasing manager, and explains: “Our two production lines have a joint capacity to consume three tonnes of LDPE per hour so, providing we can maintain supplies of suitable waste plastics, we could ultimately produce 80% of our requirement whilst taking a significant amount of waste away from landfill.”

Let’s do more

Hybrid Services, the UK and Ireland exclusive distributor for Mimaki equipment, became the first wide-format printer supplier to introduce a solvent ink cartridge recycling scheme. It uses customer incentives to get more businesses involved and is aptly named the ‘Let’s Do More’ programme, which has been in operation since 2008.

Hybrid Services offers the ‘Let’s Do More’ scheme which is an ink cartridge recycling programme that has been in action since 2008

Brett Newman, chief operations manager, explains how it works: “Hybrid’s ‘Let’s Do More’ recycling scheme is open to all Mimaki solvent printer customers using SS21, SS2 and HS inks. Once the customer has registered online for the free scheme, the process is simple: keep used cartridges to one side and once 45 have been accumulated, securely package them up and request free collected by Hybrid.

Mimaki inks

“This is all administrated online to reduce paperwork and Hybrid will collect the stock when in the area in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the scheme.”

It is estimated that this specific scheme prevents around 40 tonnes of plastic waste from going to landfill every year. But that is not the only way in which Hybrid pledges to help its customers with its environmental challenges. “In addition to the obvious environmental benefits of keeping plastic out of landfill, with this scheme, Hybrid is also helping companies to safely manage their print waste,” says Newman. “A small amount of residual ink will remain in every cartridge and this is also responsibly disposed of as part of the recycling process. In addition, Hybrid offers an ink rebate to customers – one free cartridge for every 45 they return, resulting in a substantial saving on inks costs.”

On the theme of ink saving, Mimaki is continuing to develop ink delivery systems that reduce its environmental impact. The MBIS bulk ink system uses larger foil sacks, which are transported in cardboard packaging and contained in ‘eco cases’ on the printers themselves. On certain printers, ink is delivered in larger bottles which are also easier to recycle.

Pivotal PVC

After beginning discussions around three years ago, last year Soyang Europe and Blue Castle Group – a waste and recycling expert – joined forces to launch a PVC recycling scheme. Gary Howe, who is now the innovations manager at Blue Castle, began the journey by identifying the substantial volumes of printed PVC banner material used, how it was being used for short periods of time, followed by the fact that it mostly ended up in landfill.

Soyang Europe and Blue Castle Group have teamed up to offer the PVC banner recycling programme

With Howe on board, Blue Castle formed a relationship with the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York and Matrix Recycling Systems to develop a solution. In support of this project, the business won the Innovate UK Innovation grant funding after entering the Plastic Innovation competition in 2018. A site and infrastructure were invested in, as well as machinery that shreds the material which can then be reused across a range of industries.

It was trialled with four different print companies but is now available across the industry offering a sustainable way to recycle PVC banner material. In terms of how Soyang is involved, its customers – either for themselves or their own end users – can have their PVC material picked up and delivered back to Blue Castle. Both companies have also tackled the environmental effects of picking up the PVC – when the companies order new products, the material to be recycled is picked up and taken back, meaning no extra journeys. 

The PVC can be laminated, semi-coated, knife coated, blockout and backlit products in thicknesses from 320g up to 720g.

Internal systems

Companies have started to take note of the greener elements of business, and many have started to look at their internal practices. One such firm is Applelec, with Rachel Gould who works in operations, explaining: “Steps to help protect the environment and minimise our impact on it should be paramount for any organisation. At Applelec, we are constantly working to be more environmentally friendly and through establishing an ecological management system, we are able to keep an accurate account of our current processes, the effectiveness of these and highlight any areas that require attention.”

Rachel Gould works in operations at Applelec

Applelec not only concentrates on its recycling for products and production, but also within the office itself. “Recycling is an important ethic within our business, and we have in place procedures that are implemented throughout Applelec by all staff members to ensure it is a company-wide effort,” says Gould.

“Our recycling processes focus on day-to-day items such as paper, cardboard, plastics and wood, to the materials we use to manufacture with, which includes aluminium, stainless steel and acrylic.”

Gould continues: “For these, to guarantee best yield per sheet material, we utilise a nesting software which significantly reduces the amount of overall wastage. Any material that cannot be salvaged is either recycled or we have set up a scheme with local schools, donating offcuts for their design technology departments to help support creative projects.”

O Factoid: The energy saved from recycling just one glass bottle is enough to power a lightbulb for approximately four hours  O

Concluding, Gould talks about the setting up of a group that looks into practices and how Applelec can improve its green efforts. “Our commitment to reducing Applelec’s environmental impact has led to the set-up of our internal Carbon Footprint Committee, which investigates areas for continual improvements in all aspects of our business, from our recycling, products and supply chain procedures to our energy consumption. Along with this, we are looking at more environmentally friendly packaging such as eco-friendly bubble wrap and packaging tape, as well as 100% recyclable pallet wrapping.”

With so many schemes and programmes in place, it is no longer acceptable for sign-makers to not be involved with recycling in some capacity. Whether that be with the materials from production, substrates, machinery and ink or even in the office with paper and cardboard, it is so important for a greener attitude.

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