With global and irreversible climate change looming over our planet, companies and consumers alike have been scrambling for ways to do things more sustainably.
While reducing solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions are obvious measures to take towards this goal, there are also less obvious paths that companies can take, such as by developing more eco-friendly inks.
Relating to this, how can the printing industry contribute towards sustainability?
Why go green?
Going sustainable is no longer just a fad – it’s now the status quo or the new “cool.” From tech giants like Google to global food and beverage chains like McDonald’s, almost all companies are trying to change up the way they do things to cater to a consumer base that demands more environmentally friendly practices.
For the first time, sustainability is no longer just being championed by a few – it has become the dominant mindset.
Since ink-printed products are everywhere, it can be concluded that inks contribute heavily to our waste problem. By making the shift to more eco-friendly inks, companies can enjoy the benefits of an improved brand image, thereby attracting a more environment-savvy client base.
Governments around the world have also stepped up their efforts to promote more sustainable practices. For instance, the Chinese government has rewarded manufacturing firms with a 25% tax reduction if they can reduce their pollution by 30% or more.
Thus, the benefits of going green are multi-pronged. Not only do businesses benefit from potential savings in the form of reduced energy and material costs or tax deductions, but they also gain a massive boost in branding.
Eco-friendly latex ink
Latex ink is considered by many to be the next big thing when it comes to eco-friendly printing technologies. Instead of solvent or oil, latex ink is water-based, therefore making it odorless and hazard-free for workers in the printing area.
Instead of heavy metal-laced pigment, the colorants of a latex ink are contained in resins that dissolve from heat and form a firmly fixed membrane on the printing medium.
Latex printers are also incredibly versatile, and the technology has been tested for large-format printing. Latex ink dry instantly without losing out on vibrancy of colors and overall print quality.
Eco-solvent inks are a greener alternative to more traditional inks that use strong solvents which have higher volatile organic compound (VOC) content. Not only do high-VOC inks contribute to air pollution, but the fumes they emit make heavy ventilation in the printing area a necessity.
In contrast, eco-solvent inks have much lower VOC content, can be printed with in areas with minimal ventilation, and don’t aggressively attack inkjet nozzles.
Although early eco-solvent inks have faced challenges when it comes to binding onto their printing media, modern versions have become much more reliable, even for outdoor applications.
Nowadays, eco-solvent inks have incredibly diverse applications. Since they are scratch-resistant and durable in many conditions, eco-solvent inks have been used heavily for traffic signage, billboards, and vehicle wraps.
However, despite the reduced VOC emission from eco-solvent inks, they are still non-biodegradable – a limitation that is addressed by the other inks we will discuss below.
We may not realize it, but the paper products we sort as biodegradable may not be 100% biodegradable because of the type of ink printed on them. Inks typically contain some heavy metals in their pigment, and solvents for smooth application.
Moreover, some inks also have a solvent-based varnish to give printed items a smooth and glossy finish. Thus, recycling plants typically have to perform a de-inking step before they can proceed to recycle printed paper products.
Fortunately, there are now more biodegradable alternatives. Instead of a petroleum-based solvent, a biodegradable ink can use a vegetable-based oil, such as soya or rapeseed, for smooth application.
Not only does this shift make inks more biodegradable, but vegetable and soy-based inks also release much lower levels of VOCs into the atmosphere.
While the quality of output of a vegetable or soy-based ink is now comparable to that of any solvent-based ink, vegetable-based oil is not as versatile of an ink vehicle. Without the evaporative effect of a solvent, vegetable and soy-based inks take much longer to set, making them unsuited for fast-paced printing processes.
Although sustainability is, first and foremost, a noble advocacy, it has also become a viable business strategy in the modern consumer market.
Buyers nowadays are even willing to pay a premium for products manufactured by companies that adopt environmentally friendly practices. For those in the printing industry, making the shift to more sustainable inks might be the best decision you can make to boost your business.