Years ago, whilst working as a researcher for Greenpeace, looking at how effective its campaign had been to make the Sydney Olympics PVC-free, it became apparent to me how polyvinyl chloride so dominates certain industries. This is certainly true of the billboard industry.
The Wall Street Journal reports (PDF) that, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, there are some 170,000 billboards on US expressways alone. The vast bulk of these are made of weatherproof vinyl. But now an alternative product is trying to capture some of that industry’s approximately 250 million square feet (2.3 million m2) of billboard flex and $7 billion USD sales. It is known as Eco-Flexx.
Made from a high density polyethylene (HDPE) substrate, it’s coated on one side with low density polyethylene (LDPE). It is a Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) material, without the toxic phthalates (softening agents) found in PVC. Eco-Flexx is said to be less than a third of the weight of an equivalent PVC billboard. The heft of which this treehugger can personally attest to, having once loaded a truck full of reject billboards destined to be shelter material for Tsunami victims This weight reduction is a contributing factor in an Eco-Flexx billboard scoring about 60% less energy demand to produce than a PVC one, and a correspondingly similar reduction for global warming potential. (Though these figures were calculated by a retired senior scientist from Greenpeace, who have never liked PVC, because in production and disposal it produces cancer related dioxins.)
It’s great that Circle Graphics have taken on this Herculean task to reform the billboard industry, but we do grow weary of products that claim to be 100% recyclable, without including at least some recycled content themselves. While it is true that polyethylene is way more recyclable than polyvinyl chloride, why is always someone else who has to buy the recyclate to add to their product? ::Eco-Flexx, via web surfing.