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In many industrial sectors, PVC has been losing ground to other materials and has even disappeared. In the graphics industry, on the other hand, when it comes to outdoor applications, PVC is still king. Why is this the case? We talked to some of the companies that will be present at Graphispag about this material and its alternatives.

Image courtesy of All for Printing

PVC offers excellent exterior durability, high formability and easy priming. However, it releases dioxins into the atmosphere if incinerated. Although it is a recyclable plastic, the uses and transformations it undergoes in graphic applications make it difficult to recycle – presented in the form of self-adhesive support, or foamed PVC sheets, for example. Moreover, its applications often involve dissemination of the product, which practically precludes the collection of sufficient quantities for subsequent recycling. Another aspect to take into account is the time needed for the degradation of each material, and in this respect, PVC comes out very badly.

However, it should be noted that it has some advantages over other thermoplastics that are sold as alternatives, also from an environmental point of view. For example, while the mass of plastics such as PU, PET or POs are 100% derived from petroleum, this is not the case for PVC. More than half of the mass of PVC is chlorine, which does not come from oil. In addition, their increased durability avoids frequent replacement.

Image courtesy of All for Printing

There is life beyond PVC

According to various sources, it is estimated that around 20% of total PVC production is destined for packaging or graphic uses. When thinking about alternatives to PVC, it is often the customers in the graphics industry, especially large corporations, who promote this step, rather than the printer himself.

Image courtesy of All for Printing

Pedro J. Martínez, CEO of All for Printing, explains that his company has a wide range of PVC-free products, with more than 60 products for digital printing that are capable of replacing PVC in a large majority of applications. These products range from polyolefins to fabrics to tarpaulins made of polyester and polyamide. They are alternatives that offer excellent chemical and mechanical properties for very demanding applications.

Armando Motta, CCO of Decal, says that they are committed to Think Green, which is why they are committed to alternative options to conventional PVC without compromising the effectiveness of the products. “Our PVC Free range includes PP – polypropylene – films for printing, laminating and interior decoration, which are produced without plasticisers, without harmful dioxins and can be recycled,” Motta concludes.

Armando Motta, CCO of Decal and Digidelta

Sustainable solutions, an undeniable way forward

The search for greener solutions is a cross-cutting issue in large-format digital printing. So says Motta: “We notice an increasing demand, but we feel that the change is going to take place more slowly than expected. However, we are confident that in the medium term the market will become aware of the importance of these sustainable products and will eventually fully embrace PVC Free”.

Image courtesy of All for Printing

Martinez, from All for Printing, agrees with Motta on the upward trend of green materials. “We are committed to this because these will be the materials that will be used in the next few years and there are already many brands that, in line with their environmental and sustainability policies, are demanding this type of material.

Martinez stresses the fact that a material, just because it is PVC-free, is not necessarily sustainable. “Many fabrics consume a lot of water in their manufacture, and water is an increasingly scarce resource. We must also take into account the analysis of the complete life cycle of a product, which includes the process from the manufacturing of the products, with the consumption of natural resources, to their disposal and subsequent transformation into other materials. This must be the right way forward,” he concludes.

Image courtesy of Decal

In terms of prejudices about green materials, the Decal spokesperson believes that there are still some myths associated with them, such as high price and inferior quality. Part of our work is to demonstrate that this does not have to be the case, says Motta, for whom PVC Free products are already much more affordable, and the fact that plasticisers do not migrate to the surface of the film improves prints, negates shrinkage and increases the life of the vinyl. In the case of Decal, there is an added advantage: The PE liner, which protects against moisture, eliminating rippling and reducing wastage in applications.

Graphispag, loudspeaker and trends platform

Image courtesy of All for Printing

Graphispag will be showcasing some of the alternatives to PVC. All for Printing is introducing Kavalan Sunlight Zero, a material that will change the standards of indoor printing as it achieves 91% biodegradation in 136 days.

In the case of Decal, the new dot matrix adhesive stands out, which speeds up indoor promotional campaigns, especially on glass, by helping to eliminate the formation of wrinkles and air bubbles during application. Dot matrix products are eco-friendly, as the adhesive is water-based, has the ecological benefits of the PE liner and features the PVC Free option with PP films.

European PVC initiatives

PVC is one of the most widely used plastics in the world, with a wide range of long-lasting applications in a variety of sectors and can be seen in window frames, pipes, flooring, cables, sports equipment, furniture and a range of medical devices. PVC generates debate on possible health and environmental effects. This discussion refers to many points in the product life cycle, ranging from the manufacture of the raw material to the treatment of the final product as waste. In recent years, a number of initiatives have emerged at European level that are working to develop plastics under sustainability criteria within the possibilities offered by this type of material.

The Circular Plastics Alliance aims to boost the EU market for recycled plastics to 10 million tonnes by 2025. This alliance covers the entire plastics value chain and includes more than 300 organisations representing industry, academia and public authorities.

Another initiative at European level is VinylPlus, the European PVC industry’s commitment to sustainable development, working to improve the sustainable performance of PVC.

Image courtesy of All for Printing

Cristina Benavides, Graphispag contributor