Eco-Friendly Printing- Things You Should Know

Many of us make a conscious effort to practice environmental responsibility. We haul old newspapers to local recycling centers. We use ink refill kits instead of buying new cartridges for our printers. And who doesn’t have at least one blue recycling bin wedged underneath their desk?

But is this enough? Social consciousness isn’t just about making good paper and ink choices but a lot more of it has to do with how work is produced. This means keeping the environment in mind when planning your projects.

Here are some “more green” ways to incorporate environmental awareness into your everyday projects.

Know the industry jargon

You’ll need to be familiar with industry lingo to appropriately select environmentally friendly papers. Here are a few terms you’ll often see:

•    Virgin fiber—100-percent “pure” fiber from an original source

•    Post-consumer content—Waste recovered from consumers and recycled

•    VOCs—Volatile organic compounds (such as occur in petroleum-based printing ink)

•    PCF—Processed chlorine-free

•    TCF—Totally chlorine-free

•    ECF—Elemental chlorine-free

Think Recycle

The Recycled Products Cooperative estimates that over 100 million trees are cut each year to supply fiber for writing and printing papers in the United States. This is not only detrimental to forests, but to air quality and water reserves as well.

One way to preserve resources is to purchase recycled paper with high levels of post-consumer content. Using recycled paper saves landfill space and minimizes water and energy consumption. Check recycling symbols to see what percentage of recycled fiber was used during the manufacturing process.

What about the ink?

Do you know how your printer disposes of unused ink? If you’re unsure, ask. Petroleum-based inks leach VOCs—which cause cancer and birth defects—into the soil when printed papers end up in landfills. These toxins can also be released into the air as fresh inks dry.

Soy ink is an excellent alternative to petroleumbased inks. Soy ink uses soybean oil that’s naturally low in VOCs. This smart substitute is sustainable, efficient, and cost-competitive. Many newspapers, magazines (including this one), and other materials are now printed with soy ink.

Do it digitally

Digital is ideal for short-run, four-color work for business cards, stationery, promotional pieces, and most print work that is less than 1,000 sheets of 14 x 20 inches.

This printing method even has advantages over soy inks. While soy is comprised of 86-percent oil—which isn’t biodegradable—digital printing uses 100-percent nontoxic toner. Toner-based inks also produce less chemical waste.

Consider alternative papers

Move over, pulp-based paper. A number of alternatives to traditional papers are now available, and Barber recommends several “tree-free” varieties, such as Denim Blues (100-percent reclaimed blue jean cotton), and synthetic papers by Yupo because of their environmental attributes and durability.

Know what  bleaching solutions are being used

Brighter, whiter papers are created by various bleaching processes. It’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of how manufacturers process their products so that you can select the best, most environmentally friendly papers for your projects.

Elemental chlorine was once extensively used to brighten paper products, but now chlorine dioxide (used in swimming pools) is a common substitute. This process yields ECF papers. Although chlorine compounds are safer than pure chlorine, some pollution still results.

Better choices include PCF and TCF bleaching, which substitute oxygen-based compounds for chlorine compounds. Only the recycled portion of a recycled sheet has been bleached with PCF. Fewer TCF papers are available today because most papers contain some recycled content—TCF relates only to 100-percent virgin papers.

Only products deemed acceptable by the Chlorine Free Products Association are granted PCF and TCF emblems. Look for the symbols when purchasing recycled paper.

Educate yourself

Many companies today are concerned with producing print materials and packaging made with sustainable resources. IBM, Coca-Cola, and Mc-Donald’s are just a few major businesses making an effort to publish shareholder reports on 100-percent recycled post-consumer content.

Offset cost with creativity

Some environmentally friendly products may be a bit more expensive. It’s important, however, not to view pricing issues as constraints. Instead, think creatively to help balance benefits with costs.
Know industry standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that federal agencies must use uncoated printing and writing papers containing at least 30-percent post-consumer content. Coated and commodity papers must contain a minimum of 10 percent. Consider using these guidelines when selecting paper for your projects, too.

Become familiar with other industry-issued standards. Important stamps of approval include the emblems of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Chlorine Free Product Association (CFPA). For these symbols to appear on products, they must meet specific standards determined by the International Standards Organization (ISO).

Making a commitment to practice environmentally responsible printing can be challenging, but it’s doable and highly rewarding. Starting today will help ensure a healthier quality of life for tomorrow.

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