July 1, 2010

Shopping with a Conscious: Billboards Recycled.

On our recent trip to Thailand, Andrei and I were waiting on the SkyTrain platform to make a connection between the Sukhumvit Line and the Silom Line. We happened to be at one of the busiest stations in the entire system situated across the street from yet another huge shopping complex filled with luxury retailers. As we waited to make our connection my attention bounced between the array of whizzying colors, flashing lights, and eye candy all trying to sell you something you barely even knew you needed (armpit whitening cream, anyone?). At every turn within the SkyTrain system one feels as though you are literally being bombarded with advertisements, which comes off with a dizzying effect. But eventually my attention was truly captivated by the sight of approzimately 25 people dangling from an enormous billboard attempting to secure it into place. The billboard was literally 20 stories tall, making these people look tiny beyond imagination. I felt like I was on the set of a Little People - A tiny street art project.
(For more images, check out the book, in fact you are highly encouraged to send your hard-earned cash in exchange for this silly frivolity: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0752226649?ie=UTF8&tag=littpeop-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=0752226649)

We were both shocked to see firsthand the sheer size of this billboard, which got me thinking. Just how big are these billboards anyway, in terms of their larger impact? Here is what I was able to come up with.

Every year, worldwide, there are millions of tonnes of PVC billboard vinyl created for marketing campaigns. Some of these campaigns only last a few short months, in some cases even just weeks. Billboard vinyl remains one of the largest industrial waste pollutants with the shortest use. After the billboard becomes "outdated" they remain a liability for the company producing them. In landfills, billboards slowly deteriorate and produce toxic waste in the process that is hazardous to ground water.

PVC coated fabrics remain the material of choice for billboards, where a flexible PVC coating is applied to both sides of a 3-layer composite material including polyester. Both PVC and Polyester reinforcement in their virgin form are 100% recyclable via melting and converting into pellets. However, the integration of PVC coating onto the polyester scrim fabric makes separation of either component uneconomical, and therefore, renders the material unrecyclable.

Or at least that was the case until some brillant visionaries changed that scenario. Eco-conscious designers around the world, including in Tanzania, have seized the opportunity to get their hands on these raw materials (aka discarded vinyl billboards) to transform them into hip, creative, and durable products. Under the mantra of reduce (impact, not so much consumption, yes I do note the irony of this encouraging statement following yesterday's post), recycle, and reuse - happy shopping!





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