If you don’t think about the environment very often then you don’t know that for years the printing industry has been one of the biggest polluters. We hear about oil refineries and car emissions but the dioxin and other toxic materials that are by-products of paper production are a little more under the radar. It is also easy to hear about Cobalt Blue and Cadmium Red without thinking that those are not just hues, they represent chemicals, heavy metals, that we don’t want in our environment. But plenty of people do think about the environment and so, for years now, commercial printing has been getting greener.
Starting at the paper end of things is logical so lets think about that first. Many paper processes have been streamlined to create less waste and less toxic by-products. Recycled paper products are in everything from paper towels and newspapers to the average business card. What waste there is, is often recycled back to the paper mill and post-consumer recycling is also a big part of paper production now. Does that mean that paper is no longer a problem? No, conserving paper and recycling that which you do use is very important and there are still improvements to be made to the process.
Now, on to the inks. Cadmium Red is a great example. It is a powerful and strong red that almost flames off the page. But it is made from Cadmium which is a known carcinogen. How much do we use to produce the Cadmium family of colors? According to the Wikipedia article 2,000 tons of Cadmium annually is used for artist pigments and inks for the printing industry. The alternative, Azo, is non-toxic and not particularly expensive. So in that case, changing over to an Azo based color is not hard for the printing industry. Additionally, many ink manufacturers now base their inks on soy or vegetable bases. So if the color chemicals are good, and the base chemicals are improved, we have come a long way.
Finally, waste is always a problem. Even at home, printing on an ink jet printer, you know how much paper you waste unintentionally. Well, you can only imagine what a large commercial printing firm looks at in terms of waste. But, by recycling that waste, or finding a way to use the paper more efficiently, the waste can be cut back too.
To us, making a commitment to a more earth-friendly printing process is a natural. We live on this earth, our children will inherit it, and we want it to be as clean as possible when they do!