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Product innovation helps change attitudes towards waste and recycling

Date: 26/02/2014 | Author: Lawrence Craig

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Many individuals would wrongly categorise recycling and waste management as an unrefined and somewhat ‘dirty’ industry. But to what extent is innovative product design helping to quash this myth? Lawrence Craig, managing director of vehicle graphics specialist Spedian, investigates.

It is perhaps a viewpoint typical of the older generation, but still far too many people consider recycling and waste management a ‘dirty’ industry. Refuse collection, for example, is wrongfully perceived by some as second rate employment, and the vehicles that facilitate this collection service are believed to be merely smelly rubbish lorries.

However, if these people were to dig a little deeper, they would discover that this service is far from unrefined. While not faultless – after all what business operation truly is – refuse collection is actually a carefully planned operation which helps households and organisations responsibly handle the ‘waste’ they continually produce.

It is therefore unfair that local authorities, particularly, come under fire for their approach to the UK’s resource agenda and their allocation of budget. Greater credit needs to be given to the many councils who work hard to champion resource efficiency.

By the very nature of their roles, local authorities and waste management firms try to encourage households and businesses to reduce, reuse, recycle and lead more sustainable lives. Yet some local authorities are taking things a step further. By embracing product innovations and being intelligent with their investments, certain councils are also revolutionising their own environmental credentials – and their image – at the same time.

Take refuse collection vehicles for instance. These contemporary trucks are becoming cleaner and ever-more energy-efficient, to the extent that they are increasingly considered valuable mobile assets to be proud of. This was a key driving force behind the evolution of Spedian’s vehicle graphics system, developed in conjunction with 3M.

Utilising a state-of-the-art 3M innovation called Dual-Lock™, Spedian’s patented, ‘invisible’ product does not require bolts, or an aluminium or plastic frame, like traditional systems. It is the lightest vehicle graphics system in the world, weighing only 35g per linear metre, compared to competitors’ 1000g per linear metre alternatives. There is no therefore adverse effect on vehicles’ fuel consumption and the impact on pay load is minimal.

Tested over a two-year period at the Motor Industry Research Association, extensive effort went in to ensuring this careful product design would translate into further resource efficiencies for customers. This is because, while some fleet managers simply appreciate the system’s larger and higher quality graphics, others have environmental and financial challenges to overcome.

A ventilation system has therefore been designed to create increased suction and panel adherence, according to the vehicle’s speed. This improves the product’s durability, tear-resistance and longevity. The panels are also fully reusable – and recyclable – so they can easily be removed, without causing damage to the graphics or vehicle substrate.

Crucially, this provides organisations with a powerful and flexible communication tool, which is already highly visible in the local community. The interchangeable graphic panels can be used to promote different educative recycling and resource efficiency messages, and when they need to be refreshed, the old panels are simply rolled and stored neatly in tubes, until next required. Even with minimal internal resources, councils have an opportunity to engage and strategically communicate with a mass target audience.

Interestingly, this is slowly attracting the attention of national and multinational household brands too. Of course product manufacturers and retailers, for example, could use the graphics system on their own fleet. However, they are acknowledging that these noticeable and ever-more sophisticated refuse vehicles pass consumers’ houses every day. A growing number are therefore investing a proportion of their marketing budgets to support local authorities with their recycling efforts, while engaging key customers of their own. Councils are understandably supportive of this collaborative approach too, as the sale of their ‘advertising space’ enables them to generate additional revenue.

It just goes to show that innovation is slowly helping to stimulate a shift in attitudes. The majority of these consumer brands would once have been repelled by the thought of rolling out a national marketing initiative on the side of ‘bin lorries’. But, little by little, product design and creativity is fostering a bright, clean image for refuse collection vehicles. They are becoming an increasingly integral and visual part of the UK’s resource agenda, and the numerous environmental benefits are clear to see.


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