Dispelling the Myth
Today’s print industry takes the environment seriously. Most print businesses want to leave a smaller footprint. They care about their employee’s health and want to respond to their environmentally conscious customer’ wishes. Balancing your environmental commitments is a bit tricky because, even with lots of environmentally-friendly (EF) choices, there are tradeoffs to consider.
Over the last couple of years, “green” inks have become a popular topic. So much so, that most manufacturers offer at least some EF solutions. According to a new study by Pira International, “The Future of Environment Friendly Inks – Market Forecasts to 2014” the global EF inks market is projected to reach almost €7.2 billion by 2014, with a CAGR of 4.5 percent in the 2009-14 timeframe.
The term “environmentally-friendly” or “green” is broad. EF inks are usually defined as inks that contain the highest quantity of bio-derived, renewable raw materials available for the particular ink technology, along with the lowest possible volatile organic compounds (VOC) levels. As a result, many inks could be considered EF (e.g., aqueous, water based, energy curable, ultra-violet (UV) curable and paste inks). Water-based and UV inks are two of the most common EF choices for most general print businesses.
The truth about water-based ink
Water-based inks use water as the ink carrier. The special coating allows some water to be absorbed and the colourant to stay on top. This chemical make-up limits water-based inks to interior graphics and the use of more expensive coated medias.
To make water-based inks work on more applications, the newer latex inks need to make a few modifications to the chemistry – some of which may not be all that green. The inks use water but also contain co-solvents to soften the media so that the ink will bind to the surface. The ink is then heated to an extremely high temperature (up to 95°C), which results in a film that encapsulates the pigments and doesn’t dissolve in water. The odour of these inks is quite strong, similar to water-based latex paints.
So, while the latex inks are better than some other ink types, such as solvent inks, they are not necessarily the most eco-friendly solution; the extra requirements, such as co-solvents and extreme heat, further contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
The truth about UV-curable Ink
UV-curable inks are formulated to lessen the impact on the environment. EFI’s UV inks contain up to 50% monomers and oligomers that are naturally derived from renewable resources, such as plants or biomass. These inks contain virtually no VOCs and do not contain heavy metals, such as antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium. They are not even considered a hazardous waste under some regulations, such as the U.S. waste regulations (RCRA).
UV-curable inks perform on a wider range of flexible media and rigid substrates (e.g., PVC, wood, foamcore, coroplast, aluminium, vinyl, polycarbonate, etc.) and do not require any special coatings, so they also save money and time.
To find out more about the media and substrates that work with EFI UV-curable inks or view our materials safety list, visit EFI’s Superwide Resource Site at www.superwideformatresource.com.
Weeding through the “Green”
While many companies say that they want to increase their green footprint, many surveys indicate that a majority of businesses aren’t willing to pay more for “green” technologies. If you look at the entire print system and inks, many “green” solutions aren’t environmentally friendly. To ensure that your print system is truly “green,” consider the following:
Energy consumption: Using huge amounts of electricity and water hurts the environment.
Excessive maintenance costs: If you have to do a lot of “special” things to your print system, you likely are increasing your waste.
Domestic and global environmental certifications: Truly environmental print solutions and inks are approved by credible third-parties.
Recyclable kits: Recyclable return kits sound great in theory, but the non-biodegradable box and the gas for transportation to ship it back are not “green.”
Components that aren’t biodegradable: Print systems that are truly green don’t have non-biodegradable inks or environmentally unfriendly printer components.