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Billboards to Tote Bags

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Peter Rose

Over 600,000 tons of outdoor billboards are produced each year in the United States. The vinyl used in creating these messaging tools is colorful, durable and perfect for outdoor use. The lifespan of a billboard is typically only a few months- a blip on the radar when compared to the lifecycle of the vinyl itself. Once the billboards have served their purpose, the vinyl is discarded and sent to landfills. How are companies proclaiming to have sustainable messaging, when their communication mediums continue to fill landfills?

A company called Relan LLP, based in Minneapolis, is working on a solution for this wasted vinyl. Since 1994, the company has focused on repurposing vinyl billboard waste and turning it into hand-stitched totes, bags, and other materials. The company recently partnered with several well-known brands such as Verizon, Miller Coors and Whole Foods to launch collaborated marketing efforts through repurposed supplies from the company’s billboards. This joint effort is the definition of sustainable marketing.

The bags, totes and notepad holders made from billboards are durable and weatherproof. They are also quite fashionable. Companies can contract one time promotional projects with Relan or ongoing campaigns for vinyl recycling. Many times Relan will ship the products back to the company to be used for promotional materials among clients and employees.

In addition to diverting the waste from landfills and Relan's product also continues messaging for the brands through a new method: the repurposing of materials. As Tom Schaeppi of Relan says, “The design possibilities are endless and so is the vinyl supply.”

As we enter an age where resources are becoming scarce and consumption is increasing, companies will be forced to use repurposed materials in lieu of virgin materials when manufacturing products. Why? Because the costs will be low and raw materials will be abundant. The byproducts from our culture of consumption are easily overlooked because we have always viewed them as waste. In reality, they are the resources we need for designing the future.

Would you prefer a bag made from repurposed materials, if it held the same functional characteristics as one made from virgin materials? What other companies have been able to leverage repurposed materials successfully? If so, what other waste streams can uncover opportunities?