Universal Products, better known for its umbrella brand – EcoSigns, took this responsibility on its shoulder to make the world PVC Flex-free, offering a simple solution to the complex problem aroused out of using PVC flex which has been proved to be hazardous not only to environment but to the people attached therewith.
India is the world’s largest democracy. Having a population of over 1.27 billion, it offers a very large buying market for almost all the companies. But to market their products to such a huge consumer base, companies look in to economical methods of branding, and chose one of the most common forms i.e. PVC Flex & Vinyl branding. Flex banners are sheets of PVC on which digital printing is done, which looks attractive. However, use of PVC flex is not limited only to corporate world but to political parties, NGOs and goes to convince common man for their campaigns & branding objectives.
Concerning all this, Universal Products has come up with an eco-friendly solution named EcoSigns, a high-quality substrate which is fully recyclable and can easily replace PVC bill boards, banners, standees, vehicle wraps, etc. Unlike PVC flex, EcoSigns doesn’t emit hazardous gases when comes in contact with chemical like solvent ink, and hence, pretty safe for both the people and the environment. In an exclusive talk with Sign & POP World, Dipen Mehta, the Company’s Director put his heart out when he started explaining as to why EcoSigns!
When did the idea hit your mind?
We have a tendency to bring something innovative for the industry. This time we thought a step ahead to introduce something better for the environment. In 2010, we started manufacturing this media. That time, it was only compatible with UV Inks. It took us another 3-4 years to get the material solvent compatible by adding special additives. In 2014, we had the solution ready in the form of a first-of-its-kind 100% recyclable media, which is compatible with all-inks irrespective of printers and printing technique. As of now, we are the only manufacturer in the world, which is solvent-compatible to develop which, we put a lot of efforts.
Actually, we carry a legacy of printing media for more than two decades. We introduced foam banners for off-set printing. It was the time when only fluorescent papers were used as media for advertising purposes. Since nothing was available as media for digital printing, we put a lot of efforts, and developed this unique proposition which is a true replacement of PVC flex, the hazardous media prevalent largely for advertisement purposes.
What made you think that it can be an opportunity?
With a few state-governments like Karnataka, Kerala, and Chhattisgarh taking call of this environmentally-dangerous media, there’s no alternative left but to use Poly Ethylene (PE), which is the outcome of our incessant efforts and in-depth research. This is 100% recyclable and is made compatible with all the available printing options to suit everyone’s need without any excuse. Not only India, but it is actually a global call to switch over from PVC Flex to some environment-friendly media, which is PE.
But we observe that already there exist few manufacturers of PE-based media. Don’t you have any competition with them?
There are a few manufacturers, who are making PE. But, we do not have any comparison with them as for now, because ours is the only media which is solvent-compatible. Further, others’ PE-based media to be printed require certain change in the existing flex printer setup either changed printhead or specially developed ink, while our media doesn’t need any such change and can directly replace flex on the printing bed.
How many variants do you have of your EcoSigns, the PE-based media?
EcoSigns – an eco-friendly, 100% PVC free, 100% recyclable – an innovative media is available for Front-lit, Backlit & Pre-gummed applications and can be printed on any solvent, eco-solvent & UV Machines. This special substrate comes in sizes 40″x50mtrs, 52″x50mtrs & 60″x50mtrs for Front-lit and Back-lit applications. Outdoor life for this media is more than two years, which is good enough for any outdoor installation.
Frontlit & Backlit – Compatible with all types of inks – solvent, eco-solvent & UV-cured, it is a high performance digital print media remarkably light weight, water proof & durable offering high printability with distortion free high resolution output. Meant for use in an extensive range of POSM and branding applications, it is suitable for gluing and sealing.
Pre-Gummed – This is the 1st time in the world that digitally printable 100% Green Pre Glue sheet has been prepared which is a high-performance digital print media. Release sheet is also Non-Paper, and hence, 100% eco-friendly. According to an estimate, approx. 20,000 sq.ft. of pre-gummed usage saves one big tree. Compatible with all types of inks – solvent, eco-solvent & UV-cured, this easy to install sheet can be mounted on several rigid substrates. It is suitable for use in an extensive range of POSM and branding applications.
You mentioned that these media are 100% recyclable. How do you guarantee recyclability and printability of your media?
For manufacturing this media, we are using highest quality raw materials that come in the form of PE granules of a particular grade meant specifically for making recyclable and printable media. We are sourcing these quality PE granules from reputed suppliers both, from India and abroad mainly Middle East.
How are these recycled? Is there any specific way to follow?
Once the material has been used and thrown in to the dustbin, ragpickers collect them and sell it to the rag-dealer, who then send it to the recycling plant where it can be recycled like any other recyclable substrate and get converted in to new granules to be used either for manufacturing PE again or for any other substance, those granules are found suitable for.
Another recycling method is to get them converted in to Bio-Diesel. In Bangalore, there’s a Sri-Sri Ravi Shanker’s Ashram, which has a bio-diesel plant wherein plastic wastes get recycled to produce bio-diesel. We had given them 200 kg of waste PE, of which they could make out 120 litres of bio-diesel, which can be used in running the vehicles. That is the best output of our waste PE.
In one of the videos, we found out that the waste PE media is converted in to rope.
During Mattunur Election last year, we had put forth an offer like discount coupons and other prizes that whosoever would return the PE materials used for the campaign after the election is over will be rewarded in one form or the other. The collected wastes have been recycled and got converted in to granules, which were later used for making ropes.
How are you reaching to your customers with these recyclable eco-friendly media?
For now, people are looking for the replacements but we actually are not reaching to them. In fact, we have noted that following the state government’s ordinance, many corporates have mentioned this in their respective CSRs that only recyclable material will be used for advertising. But at the same time, there was no alternative to PVC, and therefore, the ordinance was followed only on paper. However, with increased awareness about a replacement material that is readily available in the market, people came to know about our product and eventually asking for it. We have observed growing demand for PE as media for advertising.
How do you promote it against flex, a well-established pocket-friendly media?
Obviously, the price of our media is at the higher side. But it is also a fact that we must compare our material only with the recyclable ones and not with flex as there is no comparison of food with poison. However, there are quite a few hidden benefits that people must consider to use this media.
Let me tell you an interesting story. This was shared with me by service engineers who keep visiting our premises more often. They got me noticed that my place was far more pleasant and breathing-friendly than places where flex is in practice. They said that they keep moving out of the printing area every 10 minutes for inhaling fresh air to breathe. Till that time, I didn’t know this reality. Then I dug in and found out that flex is dangerous even during printing process, especially when comes in contact with solvent; it reacts with ink and releases dangerous smoke/fume/smell, which is cancerous. This is not the case with our material.
How are you marketing your EcoSigns?
For marketing, we have appointed two distributors – one each in Kerala and Chhattisgarh where the latter has three dealers. For now, around 60 PSPs are directly buying the media from our distributors surpassing dealers. We do have plans for expansion and are looking for environmentally-dedicated people, who are interested in selling our materials only, and not PVC.
See, this we are not doing only for money but have a hidden objective to do better for the environment and the society. Once the material is on the role in the market, I am sure it will generate the demand itself. We need partners who can pitch for the corporates and make them aware of this material.
So far, how has been the response from the market?
In last two years, we have sold 50 lakh sq. ft., mostly in south. But we are soon aiming to make it five times with increased awareness. For this, we are organising press conferences and participating in the concerned trade shows besides promoting it through trade publications to target specific audience.
Where your plant located and what is its capacity?
Our plant is in Rajkot, Gujarat with a monthly capacity to produce 10 mn sq.ft. This means, we can manufacture 4 lakh sq. ft. per day. Till date, we are only using 5% of our capacity, which we soon hope to touch 50-60% once people at large get to know about the hazards of PVC flex. Currently, with only one functional unit, we can serve the requirements of two states but this can be increased in no time if the demand surges. We are ready with the infrastructure needed for the purpose. Our plant is spread across 3 acre, which is enough to produce the stated capacity.