Turning billboards into bags

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In 2006, the mayor of Brazil's largest city launched a campaign to rid São Paulo of “visual pollution,” banning all outdoor advertising. Shanghai followed suit in 2008, and a recent Los Angeles moratorium on billboard permits threatens an American expansion of the trend. While such restrictions have businesses bemoaning the loss of a valuable marketing channel, they have environmental activists celebrating the advent of “clean cities.” However, potential for compromise exists. Boulder, Colo.-based manufacturer Ecologic Designs may only be able to do a little about the inundation of advertising along the freeway, but it can help minimize the waste those billboards eventually produce. The company began repurposing sporting goods equipment as bags and accessories in 2005. It also added billboards to the list because vinyl, the primary ingredient, is “so toxic, not used very long... and graphically very cool,” said Ecologic Designs COO Robert Bogatin. One hundred square miles of new vinyl, which is difficult to recycle and not biodegradable, is produced each year. Bogatin said Ecologic Designs has an “innovative manufacturing business model” in which the customer and supplier are often the same. Businesses provide the vinyl from their billboards, then buy back the repurposed products—such as messenger bags or shoulder totes—featuring images from the original advertisement. “Every single b-to-b product we make is one of a kind,” Bogatin said. Past customers include AT&T, Patagonia and The Container Store.
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