Is printing bad for the environment?

tree felling

During the digital age print has been on the receiving end of some pretty bad rep. In this article we’re going to debunk some of those myths and show print isn’t as bad for the environment as you might think, and that the industry as a whole is progressing to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Advancements have meant that less chemicals are needed in the various processes, improvements have been made in the management of raw materials (FSC, PEFC etc) and the amount of waste greatly reduced through improved recycling methods.

As of 2013 74.7% of pulp delivered to paper and board mills in Europe was forest management certified by independent forest certification schemes, up from 71.1% in 2010.

People often think of paper and printed materials as wasteful. For example take a mass printed marketing campaign targeting the largest amount of people possible, only for the item to end up in the bin. But did you know paper is typically recycled between 5-7 times during its lifetime. Each time paper is recycled the fibres are shortened, eventually these fibres become too short to be able to form a new sheet so they are utilised in the production of other items. In the UK we recycle 78% of paper based products and it costs 70% less CO2 to recycle paper than it does for virgin paper production, thanks to improvements in recycling process paper suppliers can now offer 100% recycled sheets and carbon neutral stocks.

Forest floor

You might worry about where all this paper is coming from. Surely our European forests must be shrinking down to all the paper we’re using? Nope! In fact, between 2005 and 2015 European forests grew by roughly 44,000 square kilometres. To put that into perspective that’s around 1500 football pitches every day, or an area that’s bigger than Switzerland!

Advancements in the various print processes mean we can reduce the amount of harmful chemicals needed. Direct imaging technology now means plates can be sent direct to the presses and be produced chemically free; the plates are imaged using lasers instead. DI presses are waterless too, meaning less resources are used in the process and less waste at the end of the print run. Where possible we use inks that are formulated using vegetable oils. The vegetable oils originate from renewable sources making them more sustainable, they release considerably lower rates of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and the vegetable based inks are easier to remove in the de-inking process when the product is eventually recycled.

So there you have it, print isn’t actually as bad for the environment as you might immediately think. Today we’ve outlined just a few ways the printing industry is doing its part to make print more sustainable and environmentally friendly. It’s moving in the right direction, but as always there’s still more that can be done. Hopefully we’ve changed your perception slightly of how green print can be!