- How much should the environment pay for your next project?
- Where to start?
- Rethinking inks—and printers
- Transportation: part of the sustainability equation
- E-communications have a significant impact, too
- All communications leave a footprint
- So what’s a person to do? Think.
- Design with sustainability in mind
- List of resources and links
Ed #13 Balance
Rethinking inks—and printers
What goes into your paper is important, and so is what goes on it. Printing inks also leave environmental footprints of various sizes. Until recently, almost all inks were made from petroleum. As these inks dry, alcohol and petroleum evaporate and release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), adding to air pollution. To control VOC emissions, many printers have switched to different ink technologies.
Vegetable-based inks replace petroleum with soy, corn, walnut, linseed or coconut oils, or other materials. Vegetable inks reduce or eliminate VOCs and allow presses to be cleaned with water-based cleaners, which further reduces environmental impacts. They are also easier to de-ink from paper than conventional inks.
Today’s vegetable inks compare well with their petroleum-based counterparts in terms of rub-resistance and drying time. However, vegetable inks still require the use of fossil fuels and agricultural chemicals to grow the plants used to make them. And it’s important to look at the contents of each specific ink to make sure that it uses a high percentage of vegetable oil. Some only contain a small percentage of vegetable oil and are not much better than petroleum-based inks.
Ultraviolet, or UV, inks are dried by a beam of ultraviolet energy. UV inks score high in ink holdout, which makes them well suited for use with uncoated stocks and coated stocks with non-glare finishes such as dulls and mattes. But while their environmental impact is relatively low, the cost of UV inks is high, and not all printers have the specialized experience or equipment required to use them.
Ink manufacturers continue to introduce new and environmentally improved inks. Some new process-color inks can provide the same performance as conventional four-color inks with no petroleum solvents or VOCs. Like paper and ink manufacturers, printers have also improved their environmental footprints. Much of the improvement comes from the use of advanced ventilation systems that capture the VOCs released as conventional inks and varnishes are dried.
Many printers have done much more. They are recycling solvents, collecting paper waste for sale to recyclers, recycling the aluminum found in printing plates and improving their processes to reduce spills and waste. There has been growing interest in the use of clean or renewable energy and in carbon offsets, which help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Some printers have obtained FSC or SFI certification. A number have earned ISO 14001 certification for their environmental management practices.