green printing

published 8 November 2018

We are always keen to learn how we can make better choices for the environment especially through our work processes. One of the points we’ve been researching is how do you print with a minimal impact on the environment, without compromising the quality? Here are a few key points we discovered when researching this subject.

what is Green Printing?
Green printing is a term used to describe environmentally-friendly processes being used in print production. These are proven to be less harmful to the environment than customary printing methods. The main focus is on recycling, reusing and reducing the resources used in printing products.

why does this matter?
The most important reason is the positive effect on the environment. Printing has the potential to have harmful effects on our environment in terms of pollution, deforestation, water and energy use. A couple of the principles printers may adopt are using soy or vegetable based inks, lowering VOCs admissions, using recycled printer cartridges and implementing a responsible paper purchasing policy.

how does Green Printing work?
Green printing can be done on either a digital press, (using recycled stocks printed on with non-toxic toner) or an offset press (using recycled stocks printed on using soy/vegetable based inks). Offset printing can also use waterless printing, which is an offset lithographic printing process that eliminates the water or dampening system used in conventional printing.

what inks are used and what are VOCs?
VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, these are chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at room temperature. These chemicals often give of a smell as they are released into the air, for example paints and household cleaners. Printing has traditionally been a high-VOC process, but many printers are changing and looking for a more environmentally friendly solution.
Below are a few reasons why petroleum based inks are less ideal than soy/vegetable based inks are:

  • The impact on the environment as they use non-renewable resources such crude oil
  • Petrol and alcohol evaporate during the printing process, releasing VOCs and affecting air quality
  • Solvents are needed to clean printers which have used these inks, resulting in more VOCs
  • Petroleum based inks are difficult to remove during recycling

A solution is low-VOC inks such as vegetable or soy-based inks. These inks are less harmful to the environment than their petroleum-based counterparts. Soy and vegetable based inks are made almost identically to regular printing inks, except they use vegetable/soybean oil instead of traditional petroleum-based oil.  They are widely recognised as the environmentally friendly choice.
Here are some of the benefits of Soy-based inks:

  • Low VOCs released during its use or in cleanup
  • No toxic waste is produced during recycling
  • Available in brighter and more vibrant colours

what about recycled paper?
There is a wide variety of recycled and sustainable paper stocks out there. Recycled paper comes in many styles, recycled matt brown, glossy and white, cream and smooth and many recycled stocks look exactly the same as their alternatives. The first thing to note with paper is identifying what it is made from. Is it made from virgin or recycled fibers. Virgin fiber comes from trees in the forest. But not all forests are the same, some are managed with the environment in mind and these papers will be certified by independent third parties such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Recycled fibres are called post-consumer recycled fibers (PCRF) and come from paper materials that have met their intended use and been recycled, finding a new life when added to pulp to make new paper.

other things to look out for when picking a Green Printer
Some printers may have certifications for being an environmentally conscious business. There are SGP (Sustainable Green Printers), FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and ISO 14001 (a family of standards developed to improve environmental performance issued by International Organisation for Standardisation). To find out more information about green printing please see greener printer and fsc