Can you recycle foamex?
Foamex is a brand name that is universally used for PVC foam board and is widely used in internal and external signs. Along with exhibition display stands and almost every shell scheme is made from these boards.
But the 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.
Foamex; pre-consumer waste recycling
Pre-consumer means exactly this, it’s before it gets to either a sign maker, custom booth builder or events company, its basically recycled before it leaves where its 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 its pre-consumer.
This is a not so clever (actually misleading) bit of marketing used by the manufacturers of PVC foam board to make it “sound” like it can be recycled, it probably can. To do this you have a line that can pick up off cuts, then reprocess on the spot this would need to be immaculately clean waste. Its actually pretty standard in all manufacturing …. but let’s be honest its not “recycling” foamex and its not helping you if you want to make an eco friendly exhibition.
Foamex; post-consumer waste recycling
This is where the issues start.
In principal, a sign maker, stand builder or exhibition company COULD keep all its offcuts, keep these immaculately clean and send these back to source.
To do this, you’d need a bin to place this in, a collection from someone who could then collect tonnes of this, and then a method of getting it back to where it came from. In reality this isn’t going to happen, PVC foam is super cheap (which is why its so widely used) and its simply not cost effective to do this. I’ve not even considered the CO2 impact of this, but suffice to say that’s not going to work either.
Further to this, once the bits that are printed on, cut or have vinyls applied to these are now “contaminated” and you then cant even send this back to be reprocessed, the outcome …. landfill. Still no closer to an eco friendly display stand.
Foamex: 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.
Obviously, you’ll need to get these back to the company that has printed these and this in turn can present a problem but its do-able with a bit of effort. Kind of getting there with regards to an eco friendly exhibition stand.
Best alternatives to foamex
So if you are thinking, “I’m not liking any of these options what can I do?”
Basically, you have one choice that’s viable (well two) first just place it into landfill and ignore the fact it will take an indeterminate number of years (50+) to break down, or find an alternative, this is an option but let be totally honest its not really where we need to be as an industry.
Products do exist (we use a product called Ecoboard. that are FSC certified, recycled and are recyclable and these are easily recycled by you or me as post-consumer. These will give you an option to provide eco friendly display stands at all of your upcoming events.
If you are going to go along this route, contact your supplier and ask for samples, some are better than others, some even have waterproof qualities, but some of them are sub-standard.
Regrettably unless you start pushing your supplier to provide an alternative, not much will change. Everything is ultimately driven by you, the customer.
If though you want to talk with a company that already has experience of this and can supply for you some alternatives that will save you the leg work. Get in touch with us and I’ll get everything moving and will happily share my knowledge with you.
David Hennessy is our Managing Director and co-founder of Motive Graphics, a sign, vehicle graphics and exhibition services business based in St Neots and supplying Cambridge, Peterborough and across the UK.