Event11 March 2022

Workshop: Big Signs, Little Impact

Printed branding and signage materials are essential marketing tools for businesses looking to raise brand awareness in-house, at events and exhibitions. Reducing the environmental impact of this sector has proven to be challenging, to reduce their environmental impact and it’s often the responsibility of printers to provide sustainable solutions. Many of the standard materials traditionally used in wide format printing such as inks, substrates, and installation adhesives are far from sustainable or environmentally friendly, and single-use plastic exhibition banners and signs are regularly landfilled or incinerated.

Greater Manchester has a thriving community of local printers, who supply large print media directly to businesses, and for festivals, exhibitions and events. For the Big Signs, Little Impact project, the SMI Hub engaged a group of printers, conducted one-to-one consultations with each printer, and researched sustainability concerns regarding materials used in the sector. Hannah Baron, Guilhem De Hoe and Robbie Clark presented the SMI Hub’s key findings via a virtual workshop on 18 February 2022.

The workshop kicked off with a brief introduction to the SMI Hub, and an overview of general plastics sustainability and sustainability in printing, then moved on the focus on around three areas:

  • Materials & End-of-life
  • Designing for Greater Sustainability
  • Involving Supply Chains

In Materials and End-of-life, the team presented the printers with detailed information on the sustainability and recyclability of a wide range materials they use, alongside comparative breakdowns of the carbon emissions each produces, from raw materials to end-of-life. Generally, raw materials account for most of the emissions a material produces, and end-of-life for the smallest percentage with printing typically contributing a negligible amount, highlighting the impact of material choices to the printers.

Designing for Greater Sustainability moved on to discuss how printers can use information on material recyclability and emissions to inform their customers and help them to make more sustainable choices. The SMI Hub advised the printers to use substrates with recycled content, materials that can be (and are likely to be) recycled, and to avoid multi-materials, which are very difficult to recycle, have higher emissions and tend to be more expensive and time consuming to produce.

Finally, the team moved on to speak about Involving Supply Chains. Hannah stressed the importance of engaging with suppliers to share the responsibility of recycling, typically international corporations, who should also be considering the environmental impact of the materials they produce or import. The SMI Hub team advised the printers to question the use of buzzwords like ‘green’ and ‘eco’ and to challenge how they are more sustainable than alternatives. The SMI Hub engaged with a number of waste contractors, who suggested rigid plastics are unlikely to be recycled as they are typically difficult to identify and separate from other materials.

The workshop closed with a discussion between the printers and the SMI Hub team, and each has been provided with documents including a sustainability jargon buster and an overview of materials to end-of-life.

The SMI Hub team now have a new community project in progress, Unpack the Tax, which focuses on sustainability in plastic packaging in view of the upcoming Plastic Packaging Tax.

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