FESPA UK – leading the way on waste management
We speak to FESPA UK Managing Director Suzi Wilkinson about the first important steps the organisation has taken to help printers with the disposal of material waste.
“This is a five-year plan, and our end goal is to manage every single aspect of a printer’s waste,” says FESPA UK Managing Director Suzi Wilkinson.
“We are looking to develop solutions that eliminate waste to landfill. This is a huge goal requiring collective action to make it happen. We are hopeful that in five years’ time we’ll have an answer for recycling most of the materials used by our members.”
This isn’t just blind optimism. Over the last year, Suzi has become increasingly aware of the challenges that come with finding waste management solutions for printers. But her experience so far suggests that while there are hurdles, there are also solutions.
Printer problems with waste
FESPA UK took its first steps towards waste management in October 2021, when it consulted members about the issues they faced in this area. Many printers said they found it hard to get companies to actually collect the waste, whether because of the relatively small amounts involved, or contaminants, or simply because of unreliable waste management firms.
Suzi started researching waste management herself and quickly grew to understand the issues that members had reported. But then she came across Jon Hutton at Reconomy.
The amount of waste tonnage the printers were producing individually wasn’t enough for the recycler to take them seriously
“Jon and Reconomy had already been doing a lot of what we are interested in, albeit in the packaging and labels sector. I explained to him the issues that we were having as an industry, and we agreed to collaborate,” Suzi says.
“I told Jon what we needed to get rid of, and we decided to start with PVC and polyester banners. We didn’t want to swamp ourselves with so many materials that we ended up struggling to process them. We wanted to find a solution for banner first and then move on when that was done. We quickly found that it wasn’t as easy as we thought.”
The biggest problem Suzi and Jon encountered was the amount of waste required for recyclers to be interested.
“Because a lot of recyclers take things by big pallets, or cages or tonnage, you have to have a lot of banner to get to a certain tonnage before a recycler will accept it. For the initial programme where we asked people to come forward if they were interested in recycling banner, we had 40 printers register their interest in the first two weeks. But because of the constraints around tonnage, we could only help three of them – the amount of tonnage that the others were doing as single printers wasn’t enough for the recycler to take them seriously,” Suzi says.
The firms achieved an immediate 44% recycling rate improvement, the equivalent of 2,175 wheelie bins of waste
“We looked at that situation and we came up with a few solutions. Now, for PVC banner, we have sourced five individual solutions, all at different tonnage, from one banner to 10 tonnes of banners.
“Some of these solutions involve waste coming directly from the printer – offcuts or scrap. Some involve waste coming from suppliers who collect the waste from printers and bale it on-site. Or some involve waste coming from the end user. For example, in the case of a printed sign at a supermarket chain, when that campaign is finished, they can dispose of all their banners in a tube and box system and the supermarket itself can take responsibility for collecting and sending for recycling – we have a direct courier to get that directly to the recycler.”
With these solutions now in place, the next important step is to encourage buy-in from within the print industry. Four FESPA UK member sites have committed to the project where Reconomy were tasked to improve their environmental position, with recycling being the goal. The result was, from an estimated 346 tonnes of annual graphic waste produced, an immediate 44% recycling rate improvement was achieved, which is the equivalent of 2,175 wheelie bins of general waste (the industry average per bin is 70kg so approximately 152.25 tonnes).
Full buy-in is essential to make the process work and for retailers to fully demonstrate their green credentials
“Even though we had such a positive response initially, many companies are only interested to the point where they have to have a conversation about money. It’s not free to recycle and it takes time to take some of the contamination out of it,” Suzi says.
“We are at a point now where the options are there, but printers are a little bit concerned about having that conversation about cost with the end user or their clients. Certain retailers will say that they are really green, but they need to demonstrate this further. They might be happy to enquire about having a certificate to say that they asked about responsible waste management, but full buy-in is essential to make the process work and for them to fully demonstrate their green credentials.
“It is going to be a long haul. It’s not expensive: in the grand scheme of things, for a major retailer, £500 to get some material recycled is nothing.”
Printers and print managers are, for the first time, starting to actively correspond with their clients and to coordinate end-of-campaign banner and vinyl materials to be collected and recycled. Participants range from a large retailer with more than 800 stores, to exhibitions, to a printer with small 25kg single boxes to be picked up.
To help build more support for FESPA UK’s initiative, Suzi is keen to encourage other people and organisations in the printing industry to come onboard.
“We did this initially because FESPA members were asking for it,” says Suzi. “But we’re not a huge association, we don’t cover the majority of printers in the UK, and we can’t afford to be selfish about this. If other people want to get involved who don’t see the other benefits that come with FESPA membership but who see the benefit of using this, they should get in touch. We might not be able to help them with everything straightaway, but we could put a plan in place for helping them eventually.
“FESPA leads the way on so many things, which is great, and we’re hoping to lead the way on this and encourage other associations to come and join us, help spread the word, get their members involved, and let’s work as a bigger community.”
It is very difficult to find recyclers for self-adhesive vinyl because it has a silicone layer that goes over the backing paper and it gets stuck in a lot of recyclers’ machines
And while banner is the first material that has been successfully addressed, plans are now well under way to look at others.
“Alongside Reconomy, we are launching a Roller Banner scheme which ensures end-of-life banners and base units are collected and 100% recycled, with a number of suppliers and users already making provision to incorporate this into their business ethos.
“We’re also looking at self-adhesive vinyl and the backing paper especially. It is very difficult to find recyclers for that because it has a silicone layer that goes over the backing paper and it gets stuck in a lot of recyclers’ machines. Also, it weighs almost nothing. So to do it on the basis of say, 10 tonnes, you’re looking at a year’s worth of vinyl for some car wrappers. If we can find solutions for that, that would be huge,” Suzi says.
There are millions and millions of tonnes going into landfill and it’s criminal. For us, it’s about finding solutions for the industry that make a difference rather than just talking about it
“There have been other waste management schemes that just offer a certificate but, for me and others at FESPA UK, we felt we had to do something that would actually make a difference. It’s not enough just to give out a certificate that says ‘I’ve thought about this’. We’ve got to do something about it,” Suzi says.
“There are millions and millions of tonnes going into landfill and it’s criminal. It’s not about greenwashing – a lot of this material will be repurposed and, while it might go to landfill eventually, it’s important to do anything we can to put that off as long as possible and reuse things to save having to make new things. For us, it’s about finding solutions for the industry that make a difference rather than just talking about it.”
To register for the waste management scheme, visit fespauk.com
Lifecycle of a bannerAs the FESPA UK waste management scheme is coming up to its first anniversary, to inspire people’s imaginations, Suzi and Jon at Reconomy have looked at the lifecycle of a banner.
“A lot of the banners that we send to recycling are made into horse bedding or traffic cones, or even sleeping policemen. Then, once they’ve been used so much, they are melted down and used again,” Suzi says.
“I think if people actually knew where these things were going, they would be much more interested.”
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