Taking grey areas out of greener practices
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
24 November 2011
Ilford's BioMedia is a biodegradable range of materials which break down in landfill
It seems that, everywhere we turn at the moment, there is talk about environmentally friendly printing and its perceived benefits. But, though these ideas might be green in intention, many are grey in their meaning and becoming increasingly more so as we discover what can actually be placed in the eco category of our everyday work.
What exactly does environmentally friendly mean in digital print terms? Overall, it needs to include a reduced carbon footprint generated by minimising waste and the use of less energy. These two criteria are generally the easy ones to quantify and do something about because they comprise cogent principles which can be applied by any business, large or small.
How realistic is greener printing? In the wide-format digital world we have seen users of ink-jet engines move away from full solvent production to UV-curable chemistries, aided by their ability to print direct to substrate. In the past few years, there has been a general acceptance of HP's latex printing technologies as providing a more eco-friendly alternative to other formulations, plus the introduction of materials which deem to be recyclable or recycled. But how effective are these components within the overall display picture?
Machine manufacturers, ink developers and materials producers and coaters are all striving towards greener goals because that is what the world as a whole is demanding. But, although the individual elements might offer more environmentally friendly benefits, the combination which comprises the end result could mean that recyclability isn't possible. Perhaps surprisingly, deinking of ink-jet inks isn't as simple as, say, carrying out the same process with offset and gravure. This is an area being tapped into by Ingede and, while at the moment its efforts are more concentrated on recovering paper, carton and board, the ramifications go further and can affect all those using digital print.
Ingede's current view is that, although digital production has its own advantages in print to order and shorter run lengths, ink-jet pigments tend to be too fine to enable the separation process from the media so that it can be recycled. This principle even applies to aqueous-based chemistries because they dissolve during the recycling process and, thus, cannot be divorced satisfactorily from the material.
There is also the consideration that, if redundant print jobs can't have their ink removed satisfactorily for now and end up in landfill, there are materials which are designed to biodegrade under anaerobic conditions and the help of specific enzymes. But marrying these properties with coatings that make them printable, plus complementary laminates, has been a daunting task so it's good to have tested options like BioMedia (now in the ownership of Ilford) to help further the green cause. Similarly, companies like Dufaylite have worked hard to produce a recycled paper honeycomb which has found its way into several industries, including packaging and wall panelling, as well as the display sector.
The potential for better environmental practices in wide-format is huge and likely to increase in demand, and it's certainly a topic which has its own agenda at industry events. They are not just a passing fad. As HP's Ronen Zioni pointed out at last week's FESPA Global Summit: "Green is much more than a trendy fashion […] it is moving towards mainstream." Nick Widdowson of Unilever endorsed this with his overview of the POPAI sustainability standard. His comments included the drive to greater sustainability that takes on board increases in recycled materials used for displays, unit cost and weight reduction plus significant lowering of the carbon footprint. With these influences coming from the retail sector in terms of sustainability, it is hardly surprising that consumers are changing their behaviour and, inevitably, this rolls down to all elements in the supply chain.
Extending this green reach is the reason that FM Brooks has decided to launch its EcoPrint Europe event next year and this should go further than pointing the finger at manufacturers and PSPs. Targeting brands and others in the supply channel should lead to greater world-wide responsibility in every consumer and industrial sector which, surely, has to be a good idea.
So, even if we can't recycle as much as we'd like to once we've covered our material with ink-jet print, the least we can do is source recycled or biodegradable products wherever possible. In the same way, practical moves can be made to reduce our carbon footprint without having to walk to work or live in thermal underwear so that the heating can be turned down a notch.
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