Relan makes stylish bags and other products out of discarded billboard vinyl. It provides organizations with the opportunity to turn their unwanted vinyl into unique, branded products which can be used for promotion. The company is owned by CEO Della Simpson. Della is the third owner of Relan, which was founded as long ago as 1995 when few people knew or cared about the problems of landfill waste. She bought the company in August 2011 and has embarked on the journey of turning its modest ambitions into a national venture.
Over 600,000 tons of vinyl billboard and banner material is produced every year. Relan aims to repurpose as much of that material as they possibly can. Currently most of it ends up in landfill. In fact, Della told me that if companies were to stop using vinyl tomorrow, something she would welcome, there would be enough existing material to keep them going for ten years.
Relan has a dual purpose. There is the business opportunity provided by the existence of material which can be repurposed into stylish products and sold. But, talking to Della, I get the impression that educating the companies they work with is the part of their mission which they are most passionate about. Della and her colleagues set out to convince companies that they are responsible for the materials they use and for what happens to them after they are done with them. Relan offers them the opportunity to use their discarded vinyl to make products which can further promote their company.
“Our goal,” Della Simpson tells me, “is to repurpose all the billboard vinyl out there into product.”
She goes on to explain how these products can open up the sustainability conversation internally and externally. She tells me how she emphasizes to potential customers the value of the goodwill created by demonstrating environmentally responsible attitudes and practices through products like theirs.
“Consumers are willing to pay more and support companies that are showing initiative for sustainability.”
Relan works with their customers on a case by case basis creating products which companies can use for promotional purposes. They can sell them as mementos or use them instead of bringing wasteful and much less ‘personal’ products in from outside the country, commonly from as far away as China. Very often plastic, these imported products, end up further increasing our landfill. Relan products are designed and made in the US, creating jobs and reducing carbon footprint.
I asked Della Simpson what happens to Relan products when they reach the end of their useful life. It is a very important question for Relan who are clearly aware of the danger of simply delaying the moment when the vinyl goes to landfill. They are currently working on a take back program and are talking to a company with the technology to recycle Relan product and safely destroy what cannot be recycled. This has been a primary goal of the company since the day it was purchased.
The importance of the educational role is emphasized by Relan’s involvement in the Sustainable Brands organization. Sustainable Brands runs an annual conference at which it gathers the Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) of corporations and companies to address issues of sustainability.
I asked Della how hard they find it to convince companies. The challenge she says is “getting to the right people.” When talking to the right person, she feels that the arguments are too strong to ignore. Once a company accepts responsibility for the materials they use they are open to the opportunities which Relan offers.
If ever the vinyl were to run out, and that will not be soon enough for Relan, the company has plans for recycling other materials that are currently filling our landfills.
“Anything that can be cut and sewn, we can repurpose.”
Find out more about or contact Relan here.