What is Eco-Friendly Printing and How Can You Adopt it in Your Business

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At Smart Printing Company, we’re committed to helping our clients make more eco-friendly and sustainable choices with their print. We believe in using environmentally sustainable processes and products to achieve the best end results.

We’re passionate about the work we produce, and we’re also passionate about ensuring we carry out our work to minimise our impact on the environment. We have a target to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Even the smallest changes will make a difference. We aim to educate and advise on how to take these steps whilst ensuring your printed materials are produced to the highest standards  

What is eco-friendly printing?

The objective is to reduce the impact on the environment caused by traditional printing materials and processes, replacing these with more sustainable printing products and methods.

It’s a combination of initiatives in three areas; the physical printing technology we use, the inks and the substrates we print onto. We’re seeking to reduce energy consumption, and wastage and also to minimise environmental pollutants.

It’s a challenge because many of the more environmentally friendly materials are more expensive than traditional products. However, we believe that smart and informed choices on eco printing mean we can offer solutions to our clients that combine performance and quality with an end result that quite literally doesn’t cost the earth!

Printing technologies that are helping

Our industry recognises the need for more eco-friendly options, going forward. Printing technologies are constantly developing and evolving, and sustainability is one of the key driving factors here. It’s not just about the green technologies, it’s also a question of reducing energy consumption and waste – which in turn contributes to the cost efficiency of the processes.

Traditional printing methods used solvent-based inks containing VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that can be harmful to people, animals and the environment in general. In addition, solvent-based inks can take much longer to dry and therefore require additional processes and treatments to speed up the cure.

Waterless Printing

This offset lithographic printing process removes the need for the water or dampening process commonly used on conventional presses. The printing plates feature an ink-repellent silicone coating to repel the ink, which removes the need for the water/alcohol or substitute mixture and etching fluid stage.

There are other advantages too. The system yields more vivid colour reproduction and high resolution and definition. It can also be used to print on a wide variety of non-porous substrates including plastics and foils and provides an environmentally responsible choice suitable for presses using UV (ultraviolet) and EB (electron beam) cured inks.

Green ink options

Conventional printing inks based on petroleum or plastics contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment. When you choose a natural or eco-friendly printing ink like soy or vegetable alternatives, you can avoid this issue. There may still be some chemical involvement, but these are naturally sourced materials which break down easily and offer a more sustainable alternative.

Vegetable-based printing inks

Vegetable-based inks are obviously a renewable source and obviate the need for aggressive chemical cleaning processes on press. For recycling purposes, they are also easy to de-ink (the process of removing ink from the fibres of recycled paper to make de-inked pulp).

Soy inks

Made from soybeans, soy inks are both affordable and effective. Although they can be slower to dry than other inks, many claim they produce exceptionally vibrant colours. Soy inks are also a great choice if your concerns are about de-inking and recycling.

Algae inks

These are the most sustainable eco-friendly printing inks. They are totally carbon negative and use algae cells for pigments. They are safe, compostable and resistant to UV light. Algae ink has more bio-renewable content than any other ink currently on the market.

Print materials

At Smart Printing Company, we are increasingly encouraging our clients to opt for eco-friendly print substrates. In general, these materials are made from recycled and sustainable derivatives and are in most cases 100% biodegradable. We’re doing well – across Europe, the paper recycling rate stands at around 74%, making it one of the most widely recycled materials in circulation.

Recycled options

Eco-friendly options for the print industry include paper, wood and fibre rigid substrates. Traditionally used less because they were considered less durable than alternative materials like foam board and poly-based options, new technologies and developing processes mean that there are now stronger and more cost-effective options on the market.

Paperboards are making significant inroads in the signage industry, for example, providing a lightweight, rigid and printable alternative for both indoor and outdoor applications.

Recycled paper is an obvious choice when looking to reduce environmental impact.

Weight and thickness of paper

When you are considering your environmental impact further down the line, remember that choosing a lighter paper weight will also save on costs and carbon emissions. Look at high-bulking paper, which has a thickness greater than other papers rated at the same base weight, and will save on transport and distribution costs.

Where recycled paper may not meet your design objectives or budget, you can make a contribution by using a mixture of recycled and non-recycled products.

Reduce paper wastage

Your choice of page size can impact the amount of waste generated. Although offcuts are usually recycled anyway, waste costs and optimising size to match the original large sheets bought in by printers can cut your costs, reducing waste and reducing your impact on the planet too.

Consider your finishes

Laminates and coatings can add an extra dimension to your product, but they are also an extra stage in the process requiring energy and resources. For the most sustainable finish, consider aqueous coatings, a more eco-friendly option, or even biofilms, a biodegradable alternative to plastic laminates.

Does eco-friendly printing still look as good?

The answer is yes – and indeed many people believe that the results achieved with the latest eco-friendly inks and papers can be even better than conventional techniques and processes without any loss of print quality.

Innovations in materials technology mean that recyclable and compostable materials can provide excellent resilience in everyday use.

There can be some cost differential, but a good local printer will work with you to ensure the end result matches both your budget and your quality expectations.

Waste management

The printing industry can be viewed as a significant generator of waste, but today’s printers work hard to ensure their activities are offset by reuse, recycling and careful planning to minimise potential impact.

Smart Printing Company addresses the issue of waste by looking at our processes at every stage, from initial material sourcing right through the production process to delivery to our customers. We calculate every step, from litho make-ready sheets through to the cost of make up to identify where waste can occur to eliminate the causes and set in place process improvement plans.

We re-use packaging and pallets wherever possible. In addition, where waste does occur we manage this in a responsible way with our partners. We recycle almost all of our waste output and undertake regular training to limit errors with a 10-point process check. We also have targets to further reduce waste across all our processes.

In doing so, we believe we improve the reputation of our business and underline our suitability as a business partner for companies also seeking to reduce their environmental impacts.

Certifications

If you are serious about environmental management, sustainable development and your environmental impact, talk to your chosen printing company about their commitment to eco-friendly operating principles. Accreditation to ISO 14001 is a good place to start.

This is the international standard that specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system (EMS), and looks at five key areas including environmental policy, planning, implementation and operation, checking and corrective action and effective management review.

Other things to look for are whether your printer is committed to using PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) products.

Focused on sustainable forest management, the International Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is based on external certification processes.

Here at Smart Printing Company, we work constantly towards reducing our environmental impact with the aim of improving our performance year after year.

Wrapping things up

Alongside our belief in minimising our impact on the environment, we have identified a number of clear benefits to the business through our work in this arena.

We have enhanced our sense of social responsibility through our association with projects like ReSea. We have increased efficiency across our processes, reduced energy costs in certain areas and brought our whole team on board to a more efficient and sustainable way of working.

If you would like to learn more about how sustainable initiatives could make a difference in how you buy and use print, talk to us.

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