Can you recycle foamex?

The guide to foamex and more sustainable alternatives

Can you recycle foamex?

A question I am regularly asked is, “can you recycle foamex?” and “can I use it to make an eco friendly exhibition stand?”.

Recycling pvc foam board, is it all smoke and mirrors?

Before we look at whether you can recycle a product its important to understand a couple of key points.

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 what is foamex?

Foamex is a brand name universally used for PVC foam board.

Foam board is expanded vinyl material. PVC is industrially compressed to create a strong board. Typically these are manufactured into sheets of various sizes and thicknesses.

PVC Foam board – or Foamex, is lightweight, rigid and versatile. It can be used inside or outside, making it a cost effective  go-to option for interior graphics, indoor and outdoor exhibitions, roadshows and festivals.

Its lightweight versatility makes it a particularly attractive option for exhibition stands as it can be used as a large panel or smaller panels velcroed to a backdrop.

Foamex or PVC foam board is the most common material found on a  shell scheme.

Foamex; pre-consumer waste recycling

Pre-consumer means exactly this, it’s before it gets to either a custom booth builder or exhibition stand company, it’s basically recycled before it leaves where it’s made.

If you imagine making a pie, and you fill the tray with pastry, you then trim the surplus, re-roll this and then reuse it to make another pie. This all takes place before the pie reaches the shop, so it’s pre-consumer.

To be able to recycle foam board, you have a line that can pick up uncontaminated off-cuts, a standard practice in the manufacturing process.

However, this is only one part of the recycling picture and (although important) possibly not the one you’re thinking of when considering how to create an environmentally friendlier exhibition stand.

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post-consumer waste recycling

This is where the issues start.

In principal, an exhibition stand builder or exhibition company COULD keep all its offcuts, ensure they are uncontaminated by other processes and immaculately clean and send these back to source.

To do this, you’d need a store the uncontaminated off-cuts, and partner with a recycling firm who can recycle it within their facility.

How does PVC foam board become contaminated? Once PVC foam boards or Foamex are printed on, bonded to another type of material, or have adhesive or vinyls applied they are now “contaminated”. This means they cannot be easily reprocessed – or potentially recycled at all. The outcome …. landfill.

In reality those using PVC foam board – or Foamex are unlikely to do keep off-cuts. Why? PVC foam sheets are super cheap and super light (which is why it is so widely used) and waste material rebates are calculated on weight. The cost and energy to transport and recycle foam board makes recycling this material commercially unattractive.

However, the UK government has ambitious targets on how waste materials are managed. Manufacturers, industry, event organisers and those exhibiting will need to think about alternatives.


Post consumer reuse

So with the options of recycling PVC foamboard being limited (at best) the next option available is to reuse the boards.

This is actually not impossible and providing that they are looked after, when they are installed and used, it is perfectly practical, you can apply a new layer of vinyl and away you go. Foamex has an anticipated lifespan of 3-5 years.

You’ll need to get these back to the company that has printed these. When we dismantle an exhibition stand and we know we will be reusing it again (that applies to the whole stand) we carefully wrap and pack everything to ensure it remains in good condition. Reusing elements is a positive step towards an eco-friendlier exhibition stand.

Alternatives to foamex

If you’re thinking, “Wow, I’d not really thought about the impact of foam board”

There are options and alternatives to foam board and these are some of the products we choose to use:

Bubble board

100% recyclable and has up to 25% recycled content

Commonly used for:  shell scheme graphics, POS boards, signs.

Fibre-based Card Display Board

Made from 100% fibre based card rather than plastic. This display board is 100% recyclable and FSC certified.

Commonly used for:  shell scheme graphics, POS boards, signs.

Printed polyester fabric

This can be recycled at the end of its life. A word of warning, if used with silicone strip for silicone edge graphics then you will need to cut this off this off before recycling.

Commonly used for:  shell scheme graphics with velcro, display walls, graphic wraps.

Birch plywood

Our plywood is FSC certified and sourced from sustainable sources. If we use a finite material, we always consider how it can be reused, to ensure we maximise its use.

For a unique look, this versatile material can be UV printed.

Commonly used for: shell scheme graphics, POS boards, signs, stand walling, construction, custom signs and fascia, partitions and features, shelves.

Aluminium composite (ACM)

Aluminium composite can be recycled but needs to be done at a specialist recycling centre 

Commonly used for:   logos, raised signs, POS boards, signs

Greencast acrylic

100% recycled content and recyclable.

Commonly used for:  signs, logos, illuminated signs, partitions, stand features

Paper based display board

Paper based board is popular with eco and sustainably-focused brands.

This FSC certified and 100% recyclable board has a shorter lifespan than other options.

Commonly used for:   shell scheme graphics, POS boards, signs)

Do you have questions? Our team are always happy to help answer them.

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How can you create an eco-friendly exhibition stand?

Consumer power and government legislation can influence the industries use of PVC foam board.
Choose your exhibition stand designers and builders wisely. Consider their eco credentials, use of eco-friendly materials and plans to minimise your stands environmental impact.

Other ways to create environmentally friendlier stands include:

Our exhibition services

Whatever your budget or needs, our dedicated teams can make you stand out from the crowd and connect with your audience. We provide a whole range of exhibition services from bespoke custom booths, modular exhibition stands, shell stands or stand hire for any type of venue across the UK and Europe.

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Custom stands

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Modular Stands

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Shell Scheme Stands

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Stand Hire

David Hennessy

David Hennessy

David Hennessy is our Managing Director and co-founder of Motive Exhibitions. Based in St Neots we help businesses across Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire exhibit across the UK and beyond.

Motive Exhibitions, 3 Orion Court, Ambuscade Road, Colmworth Business Park, Eaton Socon, St. Neots, PE19 8YX

01480 597 444  |

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