eco-solvent printing

CSR: The challenges of ecological printing in 2021

Concerned about reducing their impact on the planet and the environment, individuals and businesses are increasingly receptive to sustainable development, to the CSR approach and to reducing their waste. But between energy consumption, volatile organic compounds and non-valued residues, the printing sector must be called into question. Corporate social responsibility has opened the debate for several years now. However, given the diversity of the initiatives proposed, how do you choose the right professional? Here are some keys to choosing an eco-responsible printing.

Why print in an ecological way in a CSR approach?

In our company, products from the printing industry punctuate our daily lives. Newspapers, magazines, calendars, flyers and advertising or promotional catalogs, books, but also fabrics or printed dishes, packaging or photos… the media are as diverse as they are essential. Note that the flyers and advertising catalogs represent by far the vast majority of print jobs in Europe.

Such a quantity of products, for some produced daily, has an environmental impact that cannot be neglected. In Europe, for example, the amount of inks and solvents used for printing is around one million tonnes per year. Which represents no less than 2 kg of inks and solvents per inhabitant every year at the scale of the European population! This figure is provided by EuPIA who also presented a report onuse and impact of printing inks in Europe.

And the consequences of printing on the environment do not end there. Production and bleaching of paper, choice of printing equipment, recycling of obvious waste (ink cartridges, plasticized cans, etc.) or less obvious (scraps of paper or obsolete equipment for example), each phase of printing brings specificities to be taken into account in a quality ecological approach. If the interest of acting in favor of the environment is no longer to be demonstrated, in practice it can be more complicated to find the good alternatives.

De facto, advertising leaflets, whose lifespan does not exceed a few days, are responsible for the vast majority of the environmental impact of the printing sector.

Video presenting the company's CSR approach Printoclock:

Imprim'Vert, FSC, ecological printing labels to help you

To avoid the trap of greenwashing, and the wrong or empty approaches, several standards and labels can make it possible to turn to the right professionals.

Set up by the Chamber of Trades and Crafts since 1998, Green Print is a reference label for ecological printing. A charter is signed by the companies and annual audits make it possible to verify compliance with the commitments made by the printers who have obtained this certification. A Directory of companies referenced by Imprim'Vert is offered on their website.

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On the paper side, two forest certification programs guarantee the origin of the wood used for its manufacture: FSC and PEFC standards. The first guarantees a sustainable management of forests in real time, it is therefore a guarantee of seriousness more important than the second which makes it possible to highlight the efforts envisaged in the future in terms of exploitation. These two standards have already enabled significant progress in the manufacture of paper as well as objects derived from wood.

In June 2021, the FSC had 228 hectares of certified forests around the world, with an effective presence of the label in 138 countries, the majority of which in Russia. A interactive map showing the area by country of FSC certified forests can be viewed online.

FSC forest card (RSE)

Other labels and standards may also be encountered. We can for example mention the label German read Angel, known to be one of the oldest eco-labels in the world. This German label is also renowned for its reliability and can be awarded to certain ecological printing companies. We can also find several ISO standards. International, they allow companies from different countries to be evaluated using the same criteria. We will talk in particular about the ISO 14001 standard which is responsible for defining the control of the environmental impact of the company's activities. It belongs to the family of standards ISO 14000 linked to sustainable development.

At each stage of printing, its innovations

The print medium is one of the main things that comes to mind when talking about eco-printing ! Whatever materials are chosen, the use of a recycled support should of course be encouraged. However, the recycling cannot be done indefinitely, the use of paper from certified forests is therefore a possible and complementary alternative to recycling. For other types of supports, it is also possible to opt for biodegradable materials. This is the case with pens which can, for example, decompose naturally, or even be planted to give them a second life. Be careful, the presence of "hidden" plastics must sometimes be checked for this type of product.

The color of the paper used also plays a role in its ecological impact. Thus a bleached paper will require more chemicals than a natural colored paper (beige). It is also likely to result in more than Pollution. However, oxygen bleaching of paper constitutes an interesting alternative to traditional bleaching using chlorine and its derivatives, which are toxic for the environment. On the other hand, the consumer can also favor double-sided printing which allows the use of smaller quantities of paper.

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Next comes the ink, again the choice of materials used is crucial. Vegetable inks are increasingly used to replace those from decried hydrocarbons. Their advantages are numerous. They reduce the emission of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and are manufactured using vegetable oils that are simple to produce (flax, soya, rapeseed, etc.). Their use also makes it possible to improve aspects of the printing such as its speed or the intensity of the colors obtained. However, an effort remains necessary concerning the origin of the vegetable oils used, which too often remains obscure.

Finally, it is necessary to pay attention to the origin of the energy and water resources used. However, this part of the process remains limited by the current possibilities which are still too uncertain in terms of clean electricity. Other innovations are however possible. Particularly suitable for printing on textiles, but also for printing newspapers and magazines, waterless printing is an example of an interesting solution in this field. It allows water to be replaced by a thin layer of silicone. The advantages are numerous: less water consumption of course, but also reduced VOC emissions and lower energy consumption since the drying phase is then no longer necessary.

Waste and recycling in the printing industry

Less obvious, but just as important, waste management must be an integral part of any green printing process. Storage and appropriate treatment of hazardous products used in printing, but also recycling of waste paper, all elements that allow a greener approach.

If the recycling of paper is now well established in our society, that of obsolete electronic equipment is less so. Think for example of recycling your ink cartridges, or that of your printer if it breaks down.

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Video presenting the waste recycling of paper and cardboard

Packaging: the importance of ecological packaging

Once your print is complete, whether you have gone through a local printer or online, your product is still likely to generate waste before it gets to you.

If you choose to order on the internet, you will need to be careful about the method of sending your prints. The choice of the mode and the company providing the transport can, for example, allow a delivery by geographic sector. Such a mode of transport includes deliveries to be made in the same city or the same district to avoid multiplying the pollution generated.

In either situation, there is a good chance that your product will be packaged before it is delivered to you. Here again, some solutions are more polluting than others and one eco-friendly packaging must be favored. Cardboard or kraft paper packaging is preferred over plastics which create real environmental concerns. Also remember to reuse or recycle any packaging that can be.

Printers, integrate cleaner printing into your CSR approach

In France, whatever its sector of activity or its size, each company can implement a CSR approach. This consists of making commitments in one or more of the seven areas concerned by social responsibility. The environment is one of them and the efforts made in this sector can only be beneficial to the image of your structure. If your procedures validate certain criteria, you will even be able in certain cases to apply for a CSR certification.

It is very likely that the printing industry will intervene in the life of your company, whether it is to print the packaging of your products, to advertise them, to distribute them or to print your invoices or business cards ... professionals who have made solid ecological commitments will allow you in turn to participate in an effort that must be global to bring real results. The recycling of paper, or other waste is also to be taken into account by companies. In some cases, it is possible to integrate this recycling process into that of manufacturing new products. This raw material obtained will then be added to that which you used previously, which can sometimes have economic advantages.

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