22 July 2021

If you’re responsible for planning retail or store displays, you’re sure to be feeling the pressure to create more environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions in-store. But when you come to spec things like materials and substrates, how do you know what is classed as sustainable because it can be recycled and what can’t?

The truth is, there are so many materials and substrates available in todays retail display world that its simply impossible to know everything about all of them, especially when it comes to what has impact on the environment and what doesn’t.

In this article, we explore some of the ways in which retail display materials can be recycled after use and how…

Paper & Card

Probably one of the most obvious materials that can be recycled, but what happens to paper and card after we send it off to be recycled?

Once paper and card reach the recycling centre it gets sorted and separated, usually mechanically. Paper is sorted into grades and sent to paper mills to create new products such as newspapers.

Card is bailed and sold for new card manufacture. Once it reaches the mill, card is shredded into small pieces and then put into a pulping machine which uses water and chemicals to break down the card into fibres. The fibres are then rolled and dried and sent off to make new cardboard products.


We all know we need to recycle it, but do we know what happens to it after we’ve thrown it all in a brightly coloured bag or box for our local council waste team to collect? Well, the way in which plastic from retail displays in recycled is very similar to our household waste.

Once plastic is collected, it is taken to a recycling centre and sorted into the different polymer types, it is then washed, reproduced as chippings or pellets and repurposed ready to create new products.

You can find out more about what plastics can be recycled and how on from the British Plastics Federation here: https://www.bpf.co.uk/sustainability/plastics_recycling.aspx

For those plastics that cannot be recycled in an eco-efficient manner, energy recovery is the next best option. Waste plastic can provide a valuable source of heat and power which according to Plastics Europe can account for up to 10% of some EU countries’ energy needs.


Okay, we know this isn’t a substrate used widely in retail display. But let’s say you were thinking about it.

Glass is separated by size with the small pieces recycled into aggregate for things like road resurfacing. Interestingly, there are also new experiments with glass being used as a compound for creating cement products for the construction industry. 

Larger pieces are typically processed to make new materials, such as mineral wool insulation. They do this by heating glass up to extreme temperatures until it melts, then quickly spinning it to create fibres. The fibres are then bound together to be used as insulation.


It’s important to note that not all acrylic can be recycled, only cast acrylic can. Cast acrylic can be readily recycled all the way back to an original raw material, regardless of colour or aesthetic effect.

Foamex and Foam Board

This one is slightly more complex as Foamex and foam board are two very different products.

Foamex contains PVC which makes it more complex to recycle. Typically, this product can only be recycled if it is completely in its natural state, which if it’s being used to create a retail display, it won’t be.

Thankfully, for the eco-conscious there are foam boards available today that are 100% recyclable and are a good alternative to traditionally used Foamex. How these materials are recycled is generally independent to whatever alternative product you use but include similar waste streams to that of paper and card.

Wood and Timber

Similar to some of the other materials we’ve already mentioned, wood and timber is sorted and graded, with products reused or recycled into animal bedding, typically livestock. In fact, we’ve got a great story about how we helped Ferrero recycle their in-store personalisation stations with the wood and timber being recycled into award-winning bedding, easibed. Read the article here: How we helped Nutella to recycle their in-store retail pop-up displays


Fabric is a really popular solution used for retail display, and quite rightly so, not only is it more cost effective to distribute to stores as it can be mailed In small packages, but it’s also easy to install by in-store staff and can be recycled, as long as you’re using a recyclable fabric of course! It’s important to know that if you are using fabric, make sure it’s a recyclable one!

Like wood and timber, fabric used in retail displays can be recycled and repurposed into chippings for use in equestrian menages or as animal bedding. And yes, that includes the welt-edging too!

PVC Banners

The recycling of PVC banners is somewhat like recycling fabric. In additional to menage chippings, PVC banners can also be recycled into traffic cones and feet for security and temporary fences.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

It’s important to remember that retail display materials can only be recycled if they are disposed of and processed in the right way. It’s a team effort, from staff of the retail shop floor and in the warehouse, right through to those at head office planning the retail displays, the responsibility lies with us all.

Are you looking for a display partner who can help you create more environmentally friendly retail displays? We can help.

Ready to speak to a Retail Design Specialist?

We’d be happy to help! Our retail design specialists are ready to help you create a retail display that delivers to your objectives and remains within budget.

Want to see what we can do? Take a look at our portfolio

Please contact our sales team on 01530 839777 or email info@threepd.co.uk

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