Shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic first struck the shopping heartlands of Europe we saw news articles reassuring us that some good was coming out of this horrific experience; Venice’s canals were running clear, our skies were free of vapour trails, nature was re-taking the streets in the form of goats in Welsh towns and pumas in Santiago, while overall pollution levels were falling dramatically.
That all seems a long while ago. Now that lockdowns have been easing around the world, pollution levels have quickly climbed back up and threaten to exceed previous levels as commuters are told to take their cars to work rather than risk public transport. Meanwhile our oceans, that we fought so hard to rid of single-use plastic, are now in danger of becoming inundated with single-use medical gloves and surgical masks.
And retail is not immune to this irony. Acres of acrylic have been put to work protecting shop-workers from customers and consumers from each other, while thousands of metres of vinyl have been gleefully deployed on every shop-floor reminding us to keep socially distanced from each other. In the UK, now that the government has conceded to reduce that distance from two to one metre-plus, printers low on work will no doubt be leaping into action to re-print the whole lot.
And what will happen to all those discarded vinyl stickers? What will happen to those thousands of see-through screens when they come down eventually, or fall down in the interim? Isn’t it time that everyone involved in commissioning and producing these key items for protecting our safety started taking responsibility for our future by ensuring that they are collected up and that ways are found to re-use or recycle the material?
The likes of Terracycle can recycle crisp packets and chocolate wrappers into outdoor furniture – I am sure they could achieve something similar with vinyl stickers. We know that acrylic is a challenging substrate to recycle, but there are specialist businesses that can handle it if they have the volume to feed into them. So recycling solutions exist, but it needs the collective will of retail and its suppliers to continually focus not just on the short term fixes, but the long-term wins.
Come on, let’s prove that we really are In This Together!
Neil Russell-Bates, Hilltop Display Services