How to create eco-friendly POP displays

Wood, plastic or cardboard?

A POP display needs to do many things – it should increase sales, raise awareness, and educate; it needs to be practical and work within the client’s retail environment; and it must be cost effective to produce. But there is something further that should also be considered. Recycling. How can we achieve eco-friendly POP displays with recycling in mind?

POP displays are often temporary units, but that does not mean they cannot be eco-friendly. With the right forethought, POP displays can be produced so that at the end of their life the display can be broken down and the different elements recycled.

To achieve maximum recyclability and minimal landfill it is vital to consider recycling at the outset of the design process. The materials you use have a big impact on the environmental impact of the unit.

Bambo as a material in POP Displays
At DisplayMode we test and consider new materials. In this case bamboo

For example, your display may need to use manufactured wood to be strong and to ensure the unit has reasonable longevity. You could choose MDF which is a dense composite material. MDF is resistant to warping and easy to drill, shape and cut. It is an excellent material for creating POP units, except it cannot be recycled due to the UF resin used in construction. Another option is rigid paperboard, a strong yet lightweight material that is also moisture resistant and won’t warp. In contrast to MDF, rigid paperboard uses water-based adhesives that are eco-friendly and it can be easily recycled.

Using cardboard can seem like an easy solution to ensuring a POP unit can be recycled at the end of its life but this assumption can be wrong. Corrugated cardboard may be coated, which must be removed with chemicals prior to recycling and it is only possible to recycle corrugated cardboard so many times as the fibres break down. If the POP unit is needed for only a very short time then corrugated cardboard could be the most cost-effective material to use but care should be taken to minimise deterioration in use otherwise further units may need to be produced.  Having to replace the POP unit would involve additional transport, storage, more production time and cost, and more waste.

Plastics can be used to provide a lightweight display but with more longevity than cardboard. We hear a lot about how plastics are bad for environment, but actually it isn’t quite as clear cut as that. The plastics we most commonly use within POP displays at DisplayMode are HIPS and acrylic. HIPS (high impact polystyrene) is a strong, rigid material which is easy to machine and economical to use. Acrylic is also a cost-effective material, and is heat resistant, scratch resistant and can be polished easily. Both materials are very easy to recycle as long as consideration is taken with any printing. If a display needs to last longer than the typical lifespan of corrugated cardboard, then using a plastic that can be easily recycled would actually be the eco-friendly choice.

plastics in POP
Here we see heat bending of plastics.

So we have seen that when designing a POP display consideration must be given to the materials you use. Consider their suitability to the function of the display, to the lifespan of the display and to the end recycling of the display.

But you need to do more than that. How the unit is constructed, and how the finish of the display is designed may render your well-chosen materials unrecyclable. If cardboard has been contaminated with food, grease or oil, or coated with wax or resin, it cannot be recycled. Care should be taken when printing on a display as many printing processes will mean materials can no longer be recycled. Consideration should also be given to the construction of the display; if different materials are glued together they cannot be easily recycled, and the cost of the manual effort to strip away, pull apart and clean the materials can make recycling unviable.

CNC cutting for POP Displays
Some materials are easier to machine than others, which can cause a cost implication.

It sounds complex, but there are simple things you can do to make your POP display as environmentally friendly as possible, we’ll take a display that will use plastic as an example.

  • in a project make all the plastics the same – a unit that uses the same plastic throughout will be easier to recycle
  • avoid sticking things on that will make you throw away the plastics – consider the recyclability at the design stage
    • eg don’t use stickers you can’t get off, use an alternative method and at the end you have the good plastic, such as HIPS, that can be ground up and reused again.

POP displays may be produced for temporary use, but they can be designed to minimise their environmental impact. Considering the materials you use, alongside how the unit will be constructed and how the display will be finished, will ensure that as many elements as possible can be recycled at the end of the POP display’s life.

KeyTakeaway POS

Key takeawayWork with your designers to get the recycling into the brief as early as possible, you can then be confident that you are approaching your recycling obligations in the best possible way. Eco-friendly POP displays are possible with a little bit of thought at the start of the process.

Read more about Eco-friendly POP and POP design in general

Read more about the environmental impact of different materials used within the POP display industry in our guide, Design with recycling in mind.