Everyone deserves a second chance, even your old vinyl banners and billboards. If your business prints vinyl signage and banners for tradeshows, you know they often need replacing every few years. They either get worn, the branding is no longer current, or the product you promoted is now discontinued.
How often have you just thrown the banner away? Instead, you can turn your lightly loved vinyl banners and billboards into new branded merchandise to lower your environmental footprint.
Today, we’re going to talk about how you can upcycle your banners into creative, sustainable new promotional products.
The environmental impact of vinyl
Vinyl is not a naturally occurring plastic. It’s synthetically made from ethylene (from crude oil) and chloride (from salt). The process of extracting ethylene from crude oil, refining it, and processing it into Vinyl plastic causes significant pollution and can cause harm to people and animals. During processing, it can potentially emit polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the environment, which lead to cancer, birth defects, and contaminated soil, air, and water.
Vinyl is also not a sustainable material since you need non-renewable natural resources (crude oil) to make it. It is also not biodegradable or compostable, so when you throw your old vinyl tradeshow banner in the garbage, it stays there for a long time.
While it’s not ideal material, we know some clients have to use it as part of their marketing campaigns. Thankfully, you can upcycle that old banner to give it a second chance at life, in a new form.
Recycling vs Upcycling
The difference between recycling and upcycling when it comes to sustainability is important.
- In a recycling process, a material is melted or ground into small particles then turned into brand new products. This is like when we melt plastic bottles and turn them into fibres that can be used to make a new t-shirt. While this is often a better choice than throwing it in a landfill, it still has more environmental impact than upcycling.
- In an upcycling process, the material itself remains unchanged, but you turn it into something new, often by adding pieces or constructing it in new ways. You may also have heard this process called “repurposing.”
At Fairware, we work with many great sustainable companies (including Numo Manufacturing) to upcycle your old textiles and vinyl into new, unique creations and promotional materials.
What vinyl makes a good candidate for upcycling?
It’s a shame to throw away marketing materials because you can’t use them for your tradeshows anymore. Vinyl tradeshow banners, billboards, table cloths, and backdrops make for great upcycled source material.
However, not all vinyl products are good candidates for upcycling.
- The material should not have too many tears or rips (this will limit how much the manufacturer can upcycle from the fabric).
- It should be relatively clean (or clean enough that the manufacturer can gently scrub to remove any scuffs).
- Ideally, it shouldn’t contain too many hard creases (this will also limit usable space if the creases can’t be flattened for the new design)
The thickness and quality of vinyl may impact what products can be upcycled from it. A good manufacturer will ask for a small fabric sample to check this.
Benefits to upcycling vinyl
When you give away branded merch made from upcycled products, you’re showing your customers that you care about sustainability. They’ll also love knowing that they have a one-of-a-kind bag, pouch, or shirt.
Upcycling a product or fabric is a responsible way to rethink your product consumption and waste in our society. You’ll be lowering your eco-footprint too.
What can you create from upcycled or recycled materials?
The possibility for upcycling vinyl signage and billboards is nearly endless-only limited by your creativity. To inspire you, here are some cool ways to transform waste textiles and raw materials (including vinyl, wood, shirts, and ):
These are small bags with a zipper or flap. These are perfect for storing small items like cameras, keys, headphones, pens, and maybe a snack! Ditty bags come in many sizes, so it’s an excellent way to get the best use of your upcycled vinyl sheets. You’ll just need to pick the zipper style and colour.
These are useful merch items that people love to get, especially now as the world is turning away from single-use plastics like shopping bags. You could use your vinyl for the whole bag or consider mixing old with new for a colour block effect. Be sure to get your logo screen-printed or embroidered on the design.
Nature’s Path Organic took old grain bags and turned them into fabulous upcycled shopping bags that showcase their environmental commitment.
Laptop Sleeves and Duffle
A zippered laptop sleeve is a great upcycling idea that people can actually use. You can add extra cushioning between the layers for thinner vinyl or textiles to keep your stuff safe.
Duffle Bags and pouches
Maybe you have boxes of unused school sweatshirts from last season. Turn them into a cool duffle bag or pouch and sell them to students as a school fundraiser. It’s such a cool way to save old textiles from the landfill and to show off school spirit in a sustainable way.
The Environment Foundation of the Aspen Skiing Company was about to retire their employee ski uniforms. We used their old uniforms as source material to create bomber tote and messenger-style bags. We even deconstructed the uniforms to keep the logo intact so we could reuse it on the bags.
Large vinyl signs make for great padfolio covers. Science World in Vancouver upcycled old banners into these cool and useful office supplies!
When you have small scraps of fabric from other production runs, consider making them into fashionable scrunchies! This is perfect for a fitness centre or sustainable clothing brand. Scrunchies are also a great way to upcycle other textile print runs that have uneven colouring or mistakes because it’ll be too small to see them!
Wooden USB Drives
Even wood can be upcycled. Patagonia took upcycled wood from shipping pallets and created these tremendous wooden USB drives. They customized the top of each drive with their logo, then loaded with their current product catalogue on the drive to deliver to their dealers in the field.
Microfibre wiping cloths
Another idea to use up smaller pieces of fabric is to turn them into a microfibre cleaning cloth. Use your upcycled vinyl or fabric on one side, and the manufacturer will add the microfibre to the other side.
How to recycle banners
At Fairware, we love products where we get to turn old things into new ones. Why buy something new when you can repurpose (or upcycle) what you have. Giving away upcycled products on behalf of your company can become a great conversation starter about your company’s dedication to sustainability and how you are minimizing your ecological footprint.
If you have an old vinyl banner from a tradeshow or highway billboard, talk to us about how we can upcycle it into creatively unique promo merch for your company. It’s the best way to minimize your environmental impact and create something you can feel good about giving away.