How the “Going Green” Movement has meant big changes for the Printing Industry
At a time when the world is becoming increasingly aware of how delicate our environment is, the printing industry has implemented many changes to reduce its negative impact on the environment and become more eco-conscious.
A large number of printing companies have chosen to go above and beyond environmental regulations to become Green. Considering the current public attitude and movement towards Environmental Awareness, this is not only a wise decision in terms of benefiting the environment, but good for business as well.
What does being a “Green” Printing Company mean? There are several ways in which printing companies can reduce waste, reduce or eliminate the use of harmful chemicals, and substantially lower their negative impact on the environment. Many companies have implemented an Environmental Management System (e.g. ISO 14001, EMAS), which demonstrates a real commitment to continually improving their environmental performance.
Almost everyone is aware of recycled paper and the amount of paper recycling is continually rising. When compared to the use of virgin paper, the use of recycled paper substantially reduces water consumption, the use of energy, air pollution, and water pollution.
Many printing companies have begun using recycled or recyclable paper that has been produced specifically for the printing industry from sustainable managed sources such as a paper supplier certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Yet another environmental impact of paper production is the use of chlorine to whiten the paper pulp. Using chlorine produces Effluent, which is highly toxic to marine life. Many printers have begun using Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) or Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) papers.
The use of Soy-Oil based inks also known as Vegetable-Oil based inks is a significant advancement in the reduction of harmful chemicals used in the printing industry. Petroleum-based inks contain high levels of solvents, which can leach into the water table when they are sent to landfills. Some petroleum-based inks also contain toxic heavy metals.
Soy or Vegetable-based inks, unlike Petroleum-based inks, are a simple compound which means they are much more biodegradable and renewable. These inks are much easier to remove from paper in the recycling process, which means a reduction in the amount of energy needed to complete the recycling process.
Soy based inks are much more biodegradable and renewable. They are much easier to remove from paper in the recycling process, which means a reduction in the amount of energy needed to complete the recycling process.
Aqueous coatings and laminates that are very biodegradable like Soy-based inks are being utilized by more printing companies as well. AQ and UV coatings contain very low or trace amounts of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which means less harmful components are used that can damage the atmosphere.
The increased use of Digital Printing in place of traditional printing methods has had an environmental impact. Many printing companies who implement digital printing technology use Dry Toner Ink which is probably the most environmentally friendly ink being used by printers today. Dry Toner ink can be easily removed from paper, so like soy ink, recycling is much more efficient. Dry Toners inks produce virtually no VOCs and do not require chemicals for clean up.
Many printing companies that provide large format printing services use inkjet UV inks for such printed items as banners, in store displays or trade show displays. Inkjet UV ink is very durable but not very environmentally friendly. Bio-inks are just now reaching the large format market. As they become more readily available, large format printing companies should start using them in place of inkjet UV inks as a less hazardous and polluting alternative.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Conventional printing processes have historically resulted in the release of large quantities of Volatile Organic Compounds known as VOCs. VOCs are very hazardous to people, animals and the environment. They contaminate the soil and groundwater and contribute to air pollution. When released into the air, VOCs produce greenhouse gas. By switching to Soy-based inks and Aqueous Coatings, printing companies have been able to almost completely eliminate VOCs.
With the switch to Soy-based inks and Aqueous Coatings, many printing companies have begun using Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) free or low content dampening solutions during the printing process. This is another way printers are reducing VOC emissions into the environment.
Many printing companies have implemented the use of Computer-To-Plate technology, which eliminates a chemically intensive stage in the printing process. This technology has allowed printers another option to greatly reduce the use of toxic chemicals and the production of pollutants such as VOCs.
As the environment needs us all more and more, it is of the utmost importance for the printing industry to continue its movement towards finding and implementing the least-polluting, environmentally friendly materials and methods when producing printed products.
Visit the Forest Stewardship Council to learn more about this non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests.