Sustainability started to become a point of issue in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s as activists started to generate interest outside of their inner circles. This is when the first global Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, and thrust environmental conservation into the spotlight. Earth Day continues to happen annually each April 22nd as a day filled with events, activities, fundraising, and earth-conscious initiatives to raise awareness and generate more sustainable practices around the world.
The print industry, which encompasses a wide variety of applications, is synonymous with waste and pollutants, as excess materials, single-use products, and chemical-filled inks and dyes find their way to landfills and waterways. Not to mention the amount of energy used to power some of the massive print machines that you find in commercial print shops.
But as consumers have pressured businesses to become more conscious of their environmental impact, and technologies have introduced more sustainable materials and introduced more efficient machines, the print industry has an opportunity to have less of a negative impact on the environment.
Eco-Friendly & Renewable Materials
In one way, the print industry already has an established path toward sustainability, as the most prominent substrate used for printing is a renewable resource: paper. Even after paper cannot be recycled into paper again, it can still be used for other applications, such as egg cartons and fertilizer. But there are other available materials that share the sustainable trait, yet often get overlooked.
PVC-free substate alternatives offer the durable qualities of PVC substrates, without the harmful plastic chemicals. This includes raw materials such as hemp, yarn, or composite made from a variety of materials. There are a number of companies that have already produced, and continue to develop alternatives to popular non-renewable substates, such as foamless foamcore, plant-based styrene, and post-consumer cardstock made from waste materials.
The inks that are typically used for printing are filled with oil-based solution. This is because they are less expensive, water-resistant, and dry quickly, making them desirable for efficient production and avoiding wear and fading. However, there are non-oil-based, sustainable ink options available that may meet the needs of the end product.
Water-Based Inks contain less VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and are great for highly absorbent substrates. They are easy to clean and store, and still provide excellent quality prints. Though, there are some drawbacks to water-based inks. They require more time to dry compared to their oil-based counterparts, they are soluble in alkaline solutions, and they may not print smoothly on some more difficult substates.
Soy or Vegetable-Based Inks are produced using vegetable oils, such as soybeans or corn oil. The benefits of these inks are that they are designed to release less VOCs when printing and are easier to recycle, as they breakdown faster than oil-based inks. Vegetable-based inks also produce nice vibrant colors and can be more cost-effective than some other eco-friendly inks. However, these inks also require more time to dry than oil-based inks, which adds the risk of rub-off and marks. So, it is not a great option for glossy substrates.
UV Inks are categorized as “curable” inks, and dry using UV light. Whereas more traditional inks are categorized as “volatile” inks, and dry through absorption into the substate. UV inks release much fewer VOCs, almost 100% less, than volatile inks, and dry almost immediately under UV light. They also eliminate they need to add coatings or protectants. There are some disadvantages to UV ink though. There is typically a higher cost to set up UV ink production and that cost is passed on to the consumer. Also, if not cured properly, the ink will not dry, which will result in bleeding and marks.
Algae Inks are a newer oil-based ink alternative, and often referred to as the most sustainable alternative because it has a negative carbon footprint, with claims of reducing carbon emissions up to 200 percent. Algae inks have sustainable, renewable, and biodegradable qualities, and the ingredients are free of VOCs. When looking at the performance of algae ink, it is resistant to UV light, which eliminates the need for added coating or protectants. The ink is also easily disposable, as it can be poured right down the drain.
Print Waste Management
The amount of waste that is produced in the printing process is a significant contributor to the industry’s status as a major polluter. However, there are a number of steps that can be taken by print shops and consumers to reduce what makes its way to landfills.
Samples are one item that contributes to excessive waste in print. Samples, if produced for a custom project, typically use only a small part of a full piece of substrate, which could render the rest of that piece unusable. Samples are also usually only used as a reference before being discarded. So the use of a sample is short-lived before it becomes waste. If possible, consumers should rely on digital proofs or unprinted samples to make decisions.
Another contributor to excessive waste in print is how printers lay out files and utilize their materials. When creating the layout for print, designs should be oriented in a way that maximizes the space utilized for the print so that there is less excess that gets thrown away. Printers should also work with proper size pieces for the jobs that are getting produced and not use large pieces of substrate for small designs.
Efficient Energy Consumption
Many people underestimate the amount of energy that is consumed by print shops, especially larger commercial print shops. Shops, which are typically in large spaces, need to be climate controlled to not damage machines and substrates. And most modern machines require a significant amount of electricity to function, with computers, gears, lights, and automations common in many advanced printers.
Print shops can reduce their energy consumption by only having areas of the shop lit and machines turned on when active. This can help significantly reduce the amount of energy consumption. Additionally, investments in renewable energy, such as wind and solar, can help reduce a shop’s carbon footprint by producing electricity to be put back into the grid.
Another aspect that many people do not consider are deliveries. If a print shop is able to combine multiple shipments, or if a customer is able to pick up their order, it can reduce the pollution generated by delivery trucks.
At Omega, we implement the best practices possible, while meeting the needs of our customers. For customers that are interested in more sustainable products, you can contact us to inquire about available eco-friendly substrates, and our team will provide you with all of the options available that will give you a quality product that looks fantastic and satisfies your request.