Mind & Matter


A New Use for Old Vinyl

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Reused vinyl billboard facings. Photo courtesy of Repurposed Materials.


In a seminar I teach called “Material Performance in Sustainable Building,” one of the topics that architecture students wrestle with concerns nonrenewable resources and their potential futures. Vinyl receives special attention, given its near ubiquity in the building industry as well as the controversy surrounding its release of dioxin when created or destroyed. One of the biggest challenges with vinyl is recycling. Despite its ability to be recycled, vinyl is one of the least recycled plastics—at a rate of only 0.5 to 1 percent. Reuse has thus far proved to be a better option to keep vinyl out of landfills.

Bags and accessories made of modified billboard vinyl are now commonplace, and a Denver-based company now offers the material in larger quantities as construction tarpaulins. Repurposed Materials sells old billboard facing material at a 25 percent discount compared with new building tarps. Moreover, the reused vinyl is much more substantial, at 20 mm thickness versus 5 mm for new material. The tarps may also be used as drop cloths, temporary awnings, or boat covers. Although questions remain about the ultimate future of reused vinyl—which decreases in quality over time—innovative repurposing strategies can deliver more effective uses of material resources.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.