Environmental issues in print

Environmental issues in print

The Print Supply Chain

Designers and consumers are more aware of the environmental issues surrounding them. A survey of 326 graphic design, marketing and advertising professionals by Monadnock paper company, discovered that a very high majority (84%) felt that sustainability as a design factor is increasing. And, nearly the same number believe that sustainable choices have a direct positive impact on the environment. These are the folks who imagine, create and specify printed products.

Printers – those on the production end of the supply chain – have been required to deal with environmental regulations for many years, such as emissions of VOCs, handling of contaminated water and toxic waste as well as tracking of inks, solvents and chemicals. Recycling of waste paper and cardboard was good economy; you got paid for your trash!

We are now seeing new kinds of initiatives to make their processes – and the end product – more efficient and environmentally sensitive. A survey of 631 printers by WhatTheyThink found that about 1/3 promote recycled papers over “typical” papers and 1/4 promote themselves as an environmentally-sensitive business. Nearly 1/5 justify new equipment because it has a more favourable environmental impact. And, almost 15% do not have any kind of “green” certification. Clearly, the times are changing.

Developing Your Strategy

There are a wide variety of “green” strategies to choose from; some are simple and some are more complex. Here are five strategies to consider for your company; each one provides a different focus.

Cost reduction: Operating a business that’s energy and waste efficient delivers real cost savings. Choosing to concentrate on efficiency for your “green” efforts will result in a more profitable company.

Waste reduction: Anything leaving your plant that is not part of a product for which you get paid is waste. Careful examination of your waste stream will reduce your environmental impact and it makes good business sense.

Employee health and safety: A cleaner, more efficient operation is a safer workplace because there are less likely to be accidents or spills. Have you ever noticed that most environmental initiatives are managed by the health and safety group in a printing company?

Customer loyalty: Monadnock’s survey shows that graphic designers and marketing professionals – your customers – are looking for suppliers who operate in a more sustainable manner.

Competitive advantage: Cutting the cost of environmental compliance by implementing safe and efficient business processes can reduce operations costs and, in the end, the cost of doing business. An efficient company with lower operational costs can better compete.

Begin with the end in mind – design for life after death

Author Steven Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) says you begin each “task or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination” to turn your ideas into reality. Obviously printed products don’t last forever; in fact, many don’t make it through a single use. So, planning for recycling or reuse should be part of the design process.

For print service providers who want to understand and address the environmental issues in the design, manufacture and use of print, need to begin with the end in mind. In order to do so, we need to begin at the beginning – the design of a printed product. Develop the knowledge and skill necessary to move sustainable design into the mainstream of print.

The fist step is to consider the entire production process, from paper selection to printing processes to distribution and delivery as well as the end use and recovery of resources. Then, seek to apply the principles of environmentally responsible print design as outlined by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA):

Rethink features and functions to use less material and less energy.Consider closed-loop lifecycles from design through production, use and recovery.Design for recyclability, reusability and recoverability of energy and materials.Seek independently-verified data about environmental aspects and lifecycle impacts.Select materials with less environmental impact to air, water and solid waste streams. Increase use of recycled and renewable materials.Optimize production techniques to eliminate scrap, error and waste.Select lower-impact packaging and distribution systems.Design for reduced energy use, water use and waste impacts during use.Maximize the length of the product’s useful life.Recover, reuse and recycle materials at the end of the product’s life. Reduce ink coverage, gang print projects when possible, and incorporate soft proofing – just a few ways designers can look to optimizing production.

A Green Operation Paper purchasing and use

The same Monadnock survey mentioned earlier ranked post consumer waste and responsibly sourced materials as the most important attributes in environmentally-sensitive printing and packaging. So, what’s a printer to do?

The Environmental Paper Network offers some great suggestions for paper purchasing:

Form a team and become educated.Take an inventory of the paper you currently buy – types and quantities – and document the attributes, such as percent of post-consumer waste (PCW) and recycled/virgin content.Set your goals for purchasing more paper with recycled andPCW content.Identify responsible sources of paper and consider Chain of Custody certification to ensure those sources.Eliminate excessive and unnecessary consumption; use paper efficiently.

Recycle paper from all sources.

When selecting your papers, Environmental Paper Network suggests that you move up the “steps” to papers they consider better choices over “typical” papers.

Best choice:Minimum 50% recycled, post consumer waste.Virgin fiber cannot have controlled wood content or come from controversial sources.Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) or Totally Chlorine Free (TCF).

Better choice:Minimum 30% recycled, post consumer waste.Chain of Custody certification for papers with more than 50% virgin content.Virgin fiber that does not come from controversial sources

Enhanced Elemental Chlorine Free (EECF), Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) or Totally Chlorine Free (TCF).
Good choice:Minimum 10% recycled, post consumer waste.Chain of Custody certification for papers with virgin content.Virgin fiber that does not come from controversial sources.


The National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) provides some advice to printers wanting to choose inks that could have a lower impact on the environment.

Bio-derived, renewable materials: It is generally believed that using bio-derived renewable oils and other materials can improve the ink’s overall environmental impact. One cannot judge the total impact of the use of these materials without looking at the entire sourcing, manufacturing and delivery.

VOC(Volatile Organic Compound): Over the last several decades, ink manufacturers have made significant progress in developing inks that meet customer requirements for reduced VOCemissions. Inks with a lowerVOCcontent will have a lower emission level during use.

HAPs (Hazardous Air Pollutants): Lowering the amount of HAPs in printing ink is another way of reducing the environmental impact.

Heavy metals: There has been a lot of talk about the use of heavy metals in inks; however, all inks sold in the U.S. today have been manufactured without compounds based on toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, selenium, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium.

Products for recycling: Most inks can be de-inked from paper so that the paper can be recycled and used to make more. Currently, there is research being done concerning inks that are more readily absorbed into paper fibers; however, no results have been published.

Hazardous waste: Non-solvent inks that have not been contaminated with other pressroom chemicals are not considered a hazardous waste. Ink waste containing solvents with a flash point of less than 100 degrees fahrenheit are classified as hazardous due to flammability.

Biodegradability: While individual ink components may meet the definition of biodegradability, generally the mixture as a whole would not qualify as biodegradable. It is recommended that printed products be recycled when possible.

Environmental print issuesPrinting plates

When we talk about “green” printing processes, we generally talk about paper and ink, but it makes sense to take a good look at the environmental impact of printing plates. Most printers have made or are making the move from film toCTP; in fact, at drupa 08 there was no film processing equipment offered. Dr. John Zarwan, J Zarwan Partners, occasional contributer to this publication, has taken a close look at the environmental impacts of conventionalCTPand reduced chemistry, chemistry-free and “processless” plates.

Each printer will need to determine which of the new “low input” plates are appropriate for his/her own operation.

Zarwan reports on the chemistry, water and energy used as well as the waste generated by each category of plates. His results are not surprising – conventional CTPconsumes a much higher amount of input and results in more waste. He did not explore reuse or recycling of the plates.


Foils, laminates and other coatings have generally forced printed products out of the recycling stream; until an “earth-friendly” laminate became available. The search for a “bio-degradable” adhesive still goes on, but a recyclable film is now on the market.

Made with a cellulose acetate film of wood pulp from managed forests in North America, Diamond Film fromGBCis recyclable in principle. It is easily dissolved and can be recycled with the paper substrate in the repulping process; unfortunately, the adhesive with which the laminate is attached must be extracted from the pulp. Not all recyclers are able to manage it.

Cellulose is the structural component of the primary cell wall of green plants; for industrial use, cellulose is mainly obtained from wood pulp and cotton and is used to produce paper. Cellulose acetate is made by treating cellulose from wood pulp with acetic anhydride (a derivative of ordinary vinegar) to create a cellulose “flake.” The flake is used to produce a very fine, clear film.

WhileGBCrecommends the laminate for single-sided applications only, in use it has been applied to double-sided projects. It cannot be used to make a sealed border, like that used on menus, and it requires commercial laminating equipment. In addition, it’s not appropriate for toner-based digital prints that contain styrene or fuser oil nor is it a “lay flat” film like nylon films.


Chain of Custody: Printers who are developing their sustainability strategy look to third-party certification to validate their strategies to the market. For designers and buyers who want to use papers with recycled content or recycled content mixed with virgin fiber, they need to be sure that the fibers are not coming from questionable sources.

If a printer wants to promote the use ofFSC(Forest Stewardship Council) orSFI(Sustainable Forestry Initiative)/PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Council) certified paper products through documentation or a trademark on printed pieces, he/she must have a Chain of Custody (CoC) certification to do that. Even the use of a phrase like “Printed onFSC-certified paper” is a trademark violation.

There are many companies and organizations, both public and private, who have developed a policy for the purchase of paper containing sustainably sourced fiber. In that case, a printer must provide proof of the supply through a CoC certification program or pass up the job.

As a strategic move, many printers are choosing to obtain certification to attract and retain customers; more than 500 printers have achievedFSC-certification in Canada.

The Process

CoC certification for bothFSCandSFI/PEFC is controlled by an accreditation process for certifying bodies. Companies do not certify themselves. In Canada, seven accredited certifiers forFSCandSFI/PEFC currently accredits three certifiers; Bureau Veritas, National Strategic Registrations and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The actual certification process begins with an assessment or initial evaluation of a company’s readiness to implement and manage a Chain of Custody. The assessment involves a review of documented procedures, interviews with staff and a facility observation.

The evaluation is submitted by the auditor to the certifying body for a technical review. The review is sent back to the application for review. If there are any requests for corrective action, the applicant must address and correct the shortcomings prior to issuance of the certificate. Minor items requiring correction can be addressed after the certificate has been awarded.

An annual audit is completed to validate compliance and evaluate procedures. Because the annual audit is done on-site, random staff interviews are conducted to ensure awareness of and adherence to the company’s responsibilities. During the audit, documentation of trademark use and approval and training materials are evaluated for conformance.

Chain of Custody certification can take from three to six months, depending on a number of factors, including the ability of the company to implement the procedures correctly, the number of applicants seeking certification at any one time, the size and complexity of the applying company, the number of geographic locations and more. Depending on all the variables, the cost will range from about $4000 and up; subsequent audits generally cost about 70% of the initial assessment.

Other Certifications

There are a number of other certification programs in place, ranging from the Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership, a “holistic” recognition program, to international certifications likeISO 14001.

Sustainable Green Printing Partnership:SGPis a collaborative effort betweenPIA/GATF,FTAandSGIA, along with stakeholders from the regulatory, environmental and consumer arenas, in order to encourage and promote reduced environmental impact and increased social responsibility of the print and graphic communications industry through sustainable green printing practices.

TheSGPPartnership recognizes the following sustainable business practices as guiding principles to ensure continued viability and growth:Employ, wherever and whenever possible, materials derived from renewable resources or with low environmental impact, maximizing recycling and recovery efforts with efficient use of renewable energy.Encourage the adoption of changes within the supply chain by strongly recommending the use of raw materials that do not threaten or harm future generations.Educate the customer and ultimate consumer regarding the benefits of a restorative economy.

Printers can join theSGPregistry by meeting a set of criteria to establish performance standards. The registry will be available to the print buying community so that they can easily identify and contact “green” printers within their area.
ISO 14001certification: There are also programs, such asISO 14001certification, which defines standards for environmental management systems. Whether a company chooses to apply forISOcertification or not, integratingISOprincipals into environmental management strategies will lay a strong foundation.

Additional Certifications

On the process side, there are the myriad of energy-related programs available through a variety of sources, such as theEPA, other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and power companies.

And there are a plethora of “newly invented” marks coming from all corners of our universe. Some come from suppliers, while others are being proprietarily created and administered by the printers themselves.

Green Printer: What to do when you’re done with it?

Taking back the project you printed or even taking back a project someone else printed is one way to “close the loop” on the print life cycle. Printers are getting creative in designing programs for cutting down on the amount of print that ends up in the landfill.

Delta Printing Solutions of Valencia,CA– now part of Bang Printing – developed the “Delta Paper Recycling Program” in 2007 to pick up obsolete or unsold book inventory and recycle it. By making quarterly stops at their customers’ warehouses, Delta collectes pallets of books, printed material or packaging and avoids “dead heading” empty trucks back to their own plants. The materials are shredded, bailed and delivered to a recycler for conversion into pulp.

Last year, the “Green Planet Partner Program” extended a recycling program that Phoenix Media Direct, Coquitlam, B.C., had in place for more than a dozen years. Phoenix, a provider of paper, ink and toner to digital printers, now collects empty paper cores, plastic wrap, end caps and empty cartridges and recycles them.

The Big Green Print, another Seattle-based wide format printer, has identified vendors that will turn fabric and vinyl signs, banners and billboards into backpacks, grocery bags and carrying cases. They will even take back projects that they didn’t print.

Rob Varnel, R&M Laminating, Vancouver, B.C., has a location that is a “green” company’s dream. His company is surrounded by recycling companies and he has resources that accept his hard cardboard cores, paper waste and a variety of plastics. Sorting them carefully means that each recycler can give him full value. Projects like these route waste materials away from landfills and incinerators.

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