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Where the Grass and the Profits are Greener

(March 2008) posted on Thu Mar 06, 2008

Cutting through eco-jargon to nail down green practices and products.

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By Peggy Middendorf

Products that can be recycled after final use: These aren’t as common as you might hope. Arguably the most popular graphics produced by the wide-format inkjet industry are banners, most of which are printed on vinyl. Unfortunately, these vinyls are generally not recyclable because they’re a compound vinyl/fabric scrim product. IconPrint’s Evans notes that it’s very hard and costly to extract the recyclable products from vinyl banners, not unlike the problems with recycling steel-belted tires. Similar issues are involved with attempts to recycle PS vinyl, foamcore board, and mounted graphics. Primary Color has partnered with companies that re-purpose printed vinyl materials such as Big Green Marble ( in Southern California that takes environmentally un-friendly materials and re-purposes them into functional items such as garment bags and purses.

Substrates that can be composted or biodegraded after use: Media such as BioFlex from Ultraflex are on the rise. And while it’s a fine distinction, many companies (and customers) want to understand the difference between products that are biodegradable (can be broken down all the way to their organic elements) and those that can be composted (broken down into smaller pieces of the same thing).

To help educate its customers, Light-Works offers a sustainable media chart that details the products the company recommends, the eco properties of those products (renewable, compostable, recyclable, biodegradable), and the source company. Beyond BioFlex, Re-Board, and BioGraph.ics, the products that have made its list include Earthboard from Lamitech (made from post-consumer waste, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable) and Fisher Textiles’ Enviro-Tex fabrics made with Repreve yarn (comprising post-industrial fiber waste and post-consumer plastic waste, produced by Unifi).

Still, most shops we talked to for this article complained about the dearth of green media for printing with wide-format inkjet. "Although we’d like to print 100-percent green, there’s still a large void in cost-effective substrates," says Mordente of Parkway Imaging. "The ratio of non-green to green products is still unbalanced."

Consider these tips when seeking green media:

* Check with your regular media distributor. Discuss with your sales rep the type of eco-friendly materials you want to stock, or the graphics application that customers are requesting a green solution for.
* Go to trade shows and read trade magazines focusing on new green products.
* Do research online to find alternative products that could substitute for eco-unfriendly substrates. You may need to widen your search to Europe and other more eco-friendly areas.
* Join local, state, and national trade organizations and network with members who have found green alternatives.
* Educate yourself and your employees on your shop’s environmental policy and the type of products you want to sell.
* Test print "green" materials to see if they meet your quality standards.
* Keep in mind that many of the products you already use might be highly eco-friendly. Natural fiber single-component fabrics (such as cottons and polyesters) are coming back into favor since they’re highly printable, they produce a great looking banners, and they’re not PVC, says Evans.

An ongoing endeavor

Of course, there’s no single green solution for every print shop, so you have to decide what’s right for your business. Do your homework and research options. Also keep in mind that green is an ongoing process. Keep on top of technologies and media as they change to become more eco-friendly. Be on the lookout for newly introduced green media. And when you’re looking to add new hardware, evaluate how a printer fits with your company’s environmental policies.

After your company has determined your environmental policy and settled upon its green printing technologies and media, it’s time to let the world know. Don’t muddy the water with eco-jargon: Clearly define what your company stands for environmentally, in terms of printing technology and substrates, as well as non-print initiatives such as recycling and energy conservation. Finally, be honest with customers-don’t try to pull the eco-wool over their eyes.

Peggy Middendorf is managing editor of The Big Picture magazine.