Why our photography backgrounds aren't printed on vinyl (PVC)
'You are a guest of nature. Behave.' I've had this piece of art for nearly 15 years and that tagline has always stuck with me.
Vinyl photography backgrounds are fine: they unroll nicely and are wipable, I have a few myself and I've seen them styled to great effect. But they are made from PVC, a type of plastic, and for the following personal reasons (many of which I’m sure you’re aware of) I prefer to print my styling backdrops on paper.
Recent reports in the media about how much plastic is floating around in our oceans and the devastating effect it has on marine wildlife is heart breaking. As a child, spending our summer holidays in St Mawes, Cornwall, my dad instilled in me and my sisters the practice of leaving a beach cleaner than when we arrived. Sometimes that meant taking an extra piece of litter home, other times it meant doing a full-on litter pick. It wasn’t what we wanted to do as kids, but it has instilled in me an ethos that I have carried with me ever since; only take what you need and always respect nature.
Now I know many plastics are recyclable and I don't consider PVC evil in any way - it has it's uses - but I really don't have faith in the current recycling processes - clearly the UK government has not been acting respectfully, and at worst possibly just passing our rubbish and recycling on to other countries to deal with. Or not as it turns out.
So I have made the decision - at home and at work - to use as little plastic as possible. I would like to be 100% plastic free but I can't see this happening for me at the moment and I think we can still bring change by voting with our money and putting pressure on our government, so I am committed to the following rules I've set myself -
1. Never buy new plastic items unless there is no alternative AND it is absolutely necessary. Halloween tat is obviously not covered by this, but a new stapler might be.
2. Reuse, upcycle and recycle as much plastic as possible - this includes buying secondhand plastic goods which I'm happy to do because the original manufacturer doesn't profit or report that plastic goods are selling well, I'm still making a stand against plastic goods but these already manufactured items aren't going in landfills or the ocean.
3. With regards to the plastic I already own - use it until I can't any more. And then find another use for it.
So of course I don't want to be the manufacturer of a plastic product. I also don't want to demand the supply of more plastic in the world by using it in my home or business as far as is absolutely possible.
Wouldn't the print quality be better on vinyl?
The quality of a printed backdrop is in the design and print process and not dependent on what it is printed on as long as it is a clean, smooth, surface. Uncoated paper for instance wouldn't give the clean, sharp image desired in photography, but smooth paper and vinyl print to exactly the same standard. We create original artwork and scan it at 600dpi or shoot super high quality RAW photographs and ALWAYS print at 1:1 scale. That's where the print quality lies.
Back to my ethos of 'only take what you need and always respect nature', that perhaps feeds my belief that things should be fit for purpose and have a lifespan relevant to their use. Does a printed photography backdrop really need to last 200+ years? I think not! We need to get in the mindset of being responsible for every bit of plastic we buy until we die. Morbid maybe, but thats how serious this is; we're already being shown that we can't recycle our way out of this.
We need to be sustainable and responsible.
I accept that we have also got into a culture of 'throw away' goods and that attitude isn't always helpful either, but lets be honest - our work is fun and creative and by nature things become dated quickly. I want to create backgrounds that are either cheap enough to be disposable (and of course easily recyclable or biodegradable in a reasonable time) or that can be made into a long lasting prop with sustainable materials. (You can read more about this on my How to Mount blog post.)
Most paper - even gloss magazine paper or windowed envelopes - is recyclable now. Generally if it scrunches and doesn't bounce out to flatten again it is recyclable. If in doubt check here at www.recyclenow.com.
At home we've switched to using eco-friendly refillables and sustainable materials wherever possible, with zero single-use plastic, helped a lot by a sustainable shop which has just opened in my home town. I really don't understand plastic packaging at all - surely it only needs to last as long as the product it's containing lasts! Getting back on a weekly food box delivery also helps me reduce food packaging by up to 70% - my first one (of this stint) comes this Thursday and I'll have it for as long as I can afford to and then as soon as I can again!
It feels like it's becoming a lot easier to make significant changes at home but at work it takes a bit more research. Here's what I've decided or am working on in this business so far;
1. We won't ever manufacturer PVC products.
2. We are switching to 100% cardboard packaging - no more plastic end caps.
3. I'm sourcing recyclable parcel tape so it can be left on the cardboard packaging and recycled with it. I currently have a lot to use up but this company looks good for eco brown parcel tape which is fully biodegradable www.greenstat.co.uk
4. We're switching to recycled, undied papers to protect the prints inside the cardboard packaging - reducing the chemicals going into our oceans and water systems.
5. I'm going back to paper labels which can be recycled rather than the clear plastic labels I had last time.
6. In our painting process we recycle our designs as much as possible - repainting over old surfaces. Any paint we wash down the workshop sink runs to a raised plant bed - it is not connected to the main drainage system. (This is fine for draining away small amounts of water and as long as you don't put any food waste down it.)
7. I'm looking into ecofriendly paints - not 100% sure we'll get the variation we need but it maybe usable for basics.
8. We're switching to sustainable materials wherever possible - including our paintbrushes!
9. On shoots and in general we've started using these plant wax food wraps from Waxx Wraps, they're hygienic, washable, eco friendly and a great cling film alternative.
If you have any other ideas for reducing our plastic usage I'd love to hear them!
And if you're interested in reducing your plastic usage here are some good resources I've found so far -
Glad to see my town is in the process of getting rid of all single use plastic! Click the image to find plastic free communities near you.
Thanks for reading! We welcome your comments below :)
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