Billboard skins, banners, truck tarpaulins and grain covers. These are a few of the common uses of PVC coated polyester fabric. Durable, light weight, water tight, with good tensile strength, vinyl coated fabric protects against weather and damage. For the majority of coated fabric appliactions the vinyl is impregnated into the fabric, this then gives the finished article the strength needed for its end use, such as truck tarpaulins which act as the walls for the trailer. However, the combination of two plastics as woven fabric (PVC and PE) makes recycling difficult.
Currently in Australia, virtually all this material goes to landfill after years of service. It is estimated that 1.2million m2 of billboard skins are landfilled every year in in Australia. In additional, 4,000 tonnes of grain covers reach the end of their life in the agricultural sector every year. Determined to find a solution, the Vinyl Council is working with a range of partners in Australia.
TexBack is a collaborative, industry-driven initiative to retain PVC-PES composite textile products in an Australian circular economy, and was a 2020 recipient of a grant from the Commonwealth's National Product Stewardship Investment Fund. The project aims to create a viable, self-sustaining national stewardship scheme for PVC-PES products including grain covers, tarpaulins, advertising banners and tents & marquees in order to divert tens of thousands of tonnes of these valuable resources from landfill and retain them in the Australian domestic economy.
The TexBack initiative consists of three mains steps:
- A material flows analysis to estimate the stocks of PVC Coated Textiles (PCT) currently in use in Australia and the flow of these products reaching end of life annually
- The trial of world-first technology designed to produce quality recyclate streams from PVC waste, which is taking place at the PVC Separation pilot plant in Ballarat, Victoria
- Creation of a business case for an effective, economically viable product stewardship scheme
Following ongoing progress on the TexBack project since its initial funding in late 2020, the material flows analysis which forms step one of the project has now been completed and both steps two and three (the trial of world-first PVC separation technology and creation of a business case for a product stewardship scheme) are well underway. We have put together the following updated project brochure with full details and images to provide stakeholders and broader industry with an overview of the progress made so far and key steps to be completed in the coming months. The updated project brochure can be downloaded here.
Please note that the PVC Separation technology is currently in a pilot phase and cannot process commercial quantities of material. We hope to work with all stakeholders to establish a full processing plant and related stewardship scheme for PVC-PES materials in the future. Project updates will be provided to industry as the project progresses.
The TexBack project is in part a result of three previous sequential reseach projects which provided some of the framework and initial findings on which TexBack was based:
In 2014, the Vinyl Council teamed up with Monash University and, with a Victorian Future Designers Grant, engaged four students to explore the recycling dilemma of finding an effective technology to reprocess the composite material and finding products that can absorb the recyclates.
Along with an expert team of product suppliers, manufacturers and reprocessors, the students explored a wide variety of processes including heat rolling, vacuum forming and pulverising. The project succeeded in identifying a number of potential applications ranging from 'pelt' for furniture to floor covering, and moulded components for complex products.
The project culminated in a design exhibition - ReForm - of the product samples, methods used and design ideas at Monash University School of Industrial Design in March 2015. The report of the project with images and descriptions can be downloaded here.
In late 2015, the Vinyl Council was successful in securing a grant from the NSW Environment Trust to build on the work started during Project ReForm to continue to explore cost-effective options to recycle coated fabric in Australia through a project called REMAKE. In this project, the Council collaborated with University of New South Wales, Monash University, Council members and others in the PVC and recycling industries, the Outdoor Media Association and a potential end manufacturer. Several product design and reprocessing options were explored and developed.
The project used a participatory process to engage and pursue opportunities for a circular economy, including peer to peer exchange, and a very successful participatory Design Lab event. Three product designs were subsequently proto-typed and are being assessed for commercial applicability. A copy of the final report (2018) for the project is available here.
Project VersRtile involved a partnership between the VCA and the Metropolitan Waste Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG), and brought together a multidisciplinary team including the VCA, Monash University, Welvic and Boral expertise to explore the potential of developing a prototype roof tile made out of recycled vinyl coated fabric waste. Expanding upon designs from previous VCA projects, the aim was to see if the waste vinyl and polyester could be developed into a tile that used 100% recycled material.
While three prototype tiles were developed which performed well during the Australian standard dynamic weathering test, it was shown that the tiles' composition was too flexible when temperatures exceeded 50 degrees Celsius and they would require further strengthening work to meet industry standards.
Meanwhile, the preliminary business case for VersRtile found that the tiles would require high production rates for economic viability. In order to make this possible, it would mean diverting significant quantities of vinyl coated polyester fabric from landfill annually - through the development of an industry-lead recycling scheme such as TexBack. The case study of the VersRtile project can be downloaded here.
Winning Awards with Truck Tarp Kiosk
Congratulations to Monash University and Studiobird for winning 'Small Project Architecture' in the Victorian Architecture Awards in June 2015. Re-using the blue vinyl truck tarpaulins, their design made full use of the malleable, water-tight features of the coated fabric to create a totally modern and playful design for a pop-up security kiosk at Monash University.