If the right choices are made the printed product is truly sustainable
Information to help you make informed decisions...
Vegetable oil based inks were already widely used in 2007 but there existed many product gaps. Fewer product gaps and improvements in repro and print technology have significantly reduced the amount of ink used in press set up and the printing process.

There are three main areas of concern: Volatile organic compounds - emitted as the ink dries Heavy metals - contained in certain pigments (particularly metallic colours) and can result in environmental and worker health hazards Non-renewable resources - the oil content in non-vegetable oil inks is petroleum-based These issues are less of a problem where the mineral oil content is replaced with vegetable oil.

The oil content - mineral or vegetable - of a sheet-fed litho ink will make up around 35 percent of the ink. The remainder will consist of pigment, resins, fillers and varnishes. The term 'vegetable based' is, therefore, rather misleading, but it is so widely used that it is probably impossible to re-educate. It should also be noted that the vegetable oil which is used in inks is not pure, as it is reprocessed and contains additives. Prior to the 1960s, less harmful vegetable oil inks were commonly used for all printing applications. Then petroleum-based (or mineral-based) inks were introduced, and because, at that time, they were cheaper and performed better, they gradually became the norm - despite the health and environmental issues.

Vegetable oil inks replace the mineral oil content to varying degrees. For a sheet-fed litho or heatset web offset ink, for which heat is used in the drying process, the oil content will be around 35 percent. For a coldset web offset ink that dries by absorption, rather than with heat, this rises to around 75 percent. In recent years, vegetable oil inks have improved greatly - they certainly match the performance of mineral oil inks, and some say they are superior. They are now widely used for sheet-fed litho printing.

Vegetable oil inks have much lower rates of VOC emissions than mineral oil inks. Also, in contrast to mineral oils, vegetable oils are derived from renewable resources, and the inks made from them are more easily removed from waste paper during de-inking. Another plus is that the pigments in the vegetable oil inks do not usually contain heavy metals.

The main energy reguirements, by far, of a printing company are for heating and powering the equipment.

Driven by technology, the printing industry now uses substantially less energy when compared with 2007.

Emissions in the form of CO2 are directly linked to energy and have, therefore, mirrored the energy-use drop.

Additionally, awareness around CO2 issues has increased greatly and a small, but increasing, number of printing companies publicly report, via EMAS, each year on their emissions levels.

Driven by concern over the vast quantities we (all of us) produce and the environmental impact, from simple lack of disposal space to leaching and undesirable incineration as an alternative, landfill taxes have been rising...yet this is one of the easier overheads for a printing company to reduce.

A diverse range of recycling streams now exists and very few materials cannot be recycled. A little effort to research recycling options and introduce effective internal waste streams can result in savings of several thousand pounds a year for a medium-sized printing company.

Through developments in technology, water use in print has greatly reduced in recent years.

Water use in the printing process always received the most publicity but water use in pre-press (platemaking) was always of much greater use. Water intensive platemaking processes have now been eliminated.

Most water is used for ‘domestic’ purposes within the factory and there is always potential for reducing this use. From staff education to prevent water waste to fixing dripping taps to cistern devices and more innovative solutions, doesn’t it make sense to reduce both water bills and environmental impact?

Waste is generally considered hazardous if it (or the material or substances it contains) are harmful to humans or the environment. Annual creation of more than 500 KG of hazardous waste requires a company to be registered with the Environment Agency.

For a number of reasons – prepress and print technology, increased digital print – volumes of hazardous waste produced by the printing industry are greatly reduced.

Definitions vary as to exactly what constitutes a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC). They are extremely common and encountered in many aspects of our everyday lives: from fuels to pesticides, cigarettes and drugs. VOCs evaporate easily at room temperature and are associated with health problems such as asthma and in print emitted by inks and press consumables and cleaning solutions.

The printing industry was believed to be responsible for 10% of the UK’s VOC emissions (it’s not clear where this figure came from. Through greater awareness of internal air quality and changes in the chemical make up of emitting substances, the VOC emissions from the printing industry have significantly reduced.

It is important to understand that the printing process is a complicated set of chemical reactions and elements cannot be simply removed without compensation elsewhere. The concept of 'low alcohol / alcohol free printing is based on the environmental, health and safety issues associated with isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and its use in litho print. IPA is a volatile organic compound (VOC).

IPA supports the printing process in a number of ways. It reduces the surface tension of the dampening solution and ensures better wetting of the plates. It also provides a cooling function thanks to its continuous evaporation, and prevents the growth of bacteria and algae.

Technological developments have led to alcohol-free printing or facilitated printing with lower levels of IPA use.