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. 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.
Determined to find a solution, the Vinyl Council is working with a range of partners in Australia. 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.
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.
The Vinyl Council was successful in securing a grant from the NSW Environment Trust in late 2015 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.
In 2018, the Victorian state’s Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) provided a $20,000 grant to part fund an investigation into the feasibility of recycling vinyl coated fabrics into roof tiles, one of the product concepts identified in Porject ReMake. The VersrTile project enabled an expert multidisciplinary team led by the Vinyl Council to design and test reprocessing techniques and form prototype roof tiles made from waste billboard skins. The project outcomes included testing the manufactured sample tiles, which found the tiles could resist weathering as required under applicable standards; however, further development is required on the tile prototypes to meet mechanical strength tests required for roof tiles.
A preliminary business case has been developed to understand the financial and production factors that will be required to manufacture these roof tiles economically and to assess their commercially feasibility. The significance of this project is that it identifies a potential reuse of a composite material into a durable, high volume product without the need to separate the polyester fibre from the vinyl.
Winning Awards with Truck Tarp Kiosk
Congratulations to Monash University and Studiobird for winning 'Small Project Architecture' in the Victorian Architecture Awards, June 2015. Re-using the blue vinyl truck tarpaulins, their design makes 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.