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Digital Printing, Green Thinking

(September 2007) posted on Thu Sep 06, 2007

Eco-friendliness is a hot topic among printers. This month, Mandel discusses the benefits and considerations associated with making digital imaging green.

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By Rick Mandel

The substrates for point-of-sale displays range from plastic to paper products. As you weigh your options, keep in mind how biodegradable or recyclable the product is and whether it’s made with recyclable or renewable components. What we apply to the substrate in production—ink, coatings, laminates, and so on—can render the final product non-recyclable. In other words, the graphic will probably end up in a landfill.

Underneath the plastics umbrella are polystyrenes, foam boards, rigid vinyls, polycarbonates, acrylics, PETG, and PVC. As raw materials, these items have nice recycling properties; however, their own manufacturing processes require the use of petroleum products and are not kind to the environment. Paper products include corrugates and paperboards (12-40+ pt). These items are very eco-friendly and can be purchased with a certain percentage recycled contents.

Kenaf is an interesting alternative to traditional papers. A 4000-year-old crop with roots in ancient Africa, Kenaf cotton and okra grow well in many parts of the US. Kenaf offers a way to make paper without cutting trees. It grows quickly, rising to heights of 12-14 ft in as little as four to five months.


Print methods

Print method determines the final product’s eco-friendliness. Using mild solvent inks can reduce VOCs and toxicity. Direct printing with UV-curable inks completely eliminates the VOC issue, though it requires more care from ink handlers. Waterbased inks may have reduced durability, but P-O-P items tend not to require significant outdoor strength or resistance toyears of exposure. How about the use of thermal inkjets with water-based inks? Unfortunately, adhesives are required to mount images produced on aqueous inkjets, and then a top laminate typically is necessary for durability. All in all, this method reduces the ability to recycle.

Fabric has come onto the scene in our P-O-S world. Natural and man-made fibers are the split for fabric products. Fabric is direct printed with solvent or UV-curable inks, or decorated with a dye-sublimation transfer. One example of a greener alternative is DuPont’s Sorona polymer, which contains 37% renewably sourced material (by weight). It is derived from corn, which replaces petroleum-based 1,3-propanediol.


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