Facts and Fiction
enough anymore to just stick that little recycled symbol on a project
and hope for the best. Whether you know a lot or a little about becoming
more environmentally-sensitive when designing printed materials, this
section will give you an overview of the three main components that
bring a printed graphic design project to fruition. This overview is
neither conclusive nor complete, but it can serve as a primer for beginning
the education process of making better decisions. Tremendous changes
are happening as our industry addresses environmental concerns. Where
are we making progress? And what do we still not know?
You may want to download Partners in Design's comprehensive publication
for Printed Communications: An Information and Strategy Guide. This
27-page document addresses many of the questions and issues businesses
face as they try to integrate more environmentally-sensitive design
and printing practices into their communications program and includes
a comprehensive glossary of terms and definitions. The contents are
also available for online
paper. How much, what types and where does it go? The United States
is the Saudi Arabia of paper. Each year the city of Seattle alone generates
over 400,00 tons of paper or 53% of the total 750,000 tons of waste
generated in the city. Over 70% of that paper comes from the businesses.
Of the total tonnage, about 60% will be recycled. The rest of it makes
it way to the landfill. Mailers. Brochures. Magazines. Booklets. Catalogs.
Packaging. The list goes on.
of 1994 total waste which was recovered or recycled.
Forest and Paper Institute
paper makes up nearly 44% of America's discarded consumer waste. It
is the largest single waste contributor to our ever-shrinking landfills.
Yet, as a nation, we recover and recycle a mere 28% of that paper waste.
To understand the enormity of the recycling endeavor, let's use Seattle
as an example. Because of the enormity of its consumption, paper use
offers a good place to start to reduce. The City of Seattle divides
its paper into 5 catagories - Newsprint, Corrugated/Kraft, Computer/Office,
Mixed Paper and Other Paper. While the first three are fairly self-explanatory,
the last two need some clarification. Mixed Paper is a catch-all grade
of recyclables that includes groundwood (news, magazines, catalogs),
kraft (bags and boxes), containerboard, ledger/CPO, and miscellaneous
(junk mail, egg cartons, etc).
Other Paper is paper that for any number of reasons (technical limits
and lack of markets are two examples) cannot be recycled. This category
includes waxed and poly-coated papers, and packaging papers contaminated
with food, hazardous materials and other substances. Take note that
this is the area which would be the most specific and different in your
recycling area, so you may want to do a bit of local research.
Is there a market for this paper? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The market
value of paper depends on its fiber length, strength, availablity and
degree of contamination. Because of the abundance of pulp and paper
mills here in the Pacific Northwest, newsprint, corrugated magazines
and computer/office paper all have strong regional markets. The relatively
"clean" computer/office paper which requires little or no
deinking, brings the highest price at $195-205
per ton. Mixed Paper comes in at $0/10 per ton. This disparity comes
from the very limited domestic capacity we have available for recycling
this mixed bag of paper waste and few cost effective ways of separating
out the high grades.
Virtually all Mixed Paper here in Seattle is sent overseas to Pacific
Rim markets. There, high grade materials like magazines are sorted out
and many, surprisingly, find a market back in the US. Most paper manufacturers,
responding to increasing demand, now offer quality recycled stocks.
To avoid spending the tremendous amount of energy and resources necessary
to export our paper waste (and in many cases, purchase it back as new
products), businesses who produce printed materials need to play an
increasingly important role in pulling their weight by creating a domestic
market for this mixed waste.
To effectively close the loop, depending on where you live, you can
pretty easily purchase recycled paper products for your home and business;
as a business person designing or specifying paper for even just one
project, you have, in the aggregate, increased your purchasing power
many times over. But be wary of claims that a recycled paper "meets
EPA or federal requirements." Guidelines issued by the EPA in 1988
state that writing and printing papers procured through federal purchases
- just 2% of the paper purchased nationwide - must contain a minimum
of only 50% waste paper. The other 50% may be virgin fiber. And more
specifically, the waste paper content can include any of the following:
unprinted paper or board, such as converting cutting, envelope clippings
and reject or obsolete paper.
that have been printed, coated or processed, but have not been used
in their finished form, such as printed scrap and trimmings from publishers
and printers, and second cut cotton linters. Preconsumer waste must
usually be cleaned, bleached and/or deinked
prior to recycling.
that have passed through consumer use and have been recovered from the
waste stream through recycling, such as checks, mailings and office
waste. Postconsumer waste must also be processed before recycling, but
what is important to remember here is that postconsumer waste is paper
that will be burned or buried if not recycled.
Unfortunately, many new "recycled" sheets meet this 50% requirement
with only mill waste. When mill waste makes up all the recycled content
in a paper, there is no real gain in recycling because almost all of these
materials have been, for economic reasons, traditionally thrown back into
the papermaking process anyway. So what becomes important in the specification
of recycled paper is the quantity of postconsumer content. Some
commercial mills marketing papers with high postconsumer waste content
are Cross Pointe Papers, Simpson Paper, Mohawk Paper, P.H. Glatfelter,
Domtar Paper, Fox River Paper, Byron Weston, Hopper Paper and Conservatree.
cost and printing quality Recycled
papers are still generally 10-20% higher in price than virgin pulp because
of the changing availability of recyclable waste paper (mills that feed
their own deinking systems are at a definite advantage here) and tax subsidies
favoring the virgin pulp industry. Both Sierra Club and the Wilderness
Society are lobbying efforts against these subsidies.
The quality gap between recycled and virgin stocks has been closing since
the late 70s. The fibers in recycled papers are shorter, making it thicker
and more opaque - good for diecutting and embossing. Grades are good all
across the board in cover and card stock, and text and writing papers.
Most complaints come from the use of coated recycled papers. For a definitive
guide to printing on recycled papers, see Recycled
Papers: The Essential Guide, by Claudia Thompson, published by MIT
Press ISBN 0-262-70046-8 (pbk.)
Informed purchasing choices as well as careful print
planning to ensure that paper will have a second (or third, or fourth)
life is essential, if we are to make a dent in the paper mountain. In
addition, waste reduction strategies that you can implement in your own
offices start with two-sided copying, remanufactured toner cartridges,
plain paper faxes, current mailing lists and electronic mail. For a nicely
written and illustrated guide to beginning more environmentally responsible
activities inside and outside of your offices, you may want to take a
look at small book just published called The
Ecology of Design by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).
AIGA's website also offers links to local chapters where you can see some
interesting things going on to address that organization's environmental
initiative, such as AIGA/Portland's Adopt-a-Ton program, a designer-client
collaborative where for every project that uses paper, the cost of recycling
a ton of paper is donated to the city of Portland's recycling program.
totally different - and exciting - option to virgin or recycled wood papers
is the small but growing arena of tree-free fibers. Since 1994, these
alternative papers have taken off and they seem to have the potential
to strongly impact the paper industry.
Tree-free papers are essentially virgin papers, made usually from a cash
crop like kenaf, hemp or straw. Organically-grown and naturally colored
cotton is also showing up as an alternative as are recycled papers made
from materials as diverse as algae collected from the Venice Lagoon. KP
Products, Vision Paper, and Green Field Paper Company are three companies
that market these tree-free papers. (See
These papers provide a true alternative to wood pulp papers in a variety
of ways - they are cultivated without pesticides, provide employment in
traditionally economically depressed areas, require less energy and no
chlorine to process, and, unlike trees, grow quickly and can beharvested
yearly for paper manufacture.
Support for these emerging industries is essential for their success,
and of course, the usual caveats apply - a slight premium in cost and
flexibility on supply must be tolerated to help develop a strong market
Lay a grocery
bag down next to a sheet of printing or writing paper with a brightness
level of 90. One is rough, stiff and brown; close in appearance to the
pulped wood chips from which it was made. The other is soft, pliable
and bright white; most probably the result of a multi-staged bleaching
process containing chlorine compounds. The steps required to go from
grocery bag brown to brightest white are perhaps the single most damaging
process in the production of pulp and paper.
While the increased use of recycled paper with postconsumer content
has begun to funnel some of the mountains of paper waste we generate
into reuseable products, the continuing reliance of North American pulp
mills on chlorine bleaching systems presents the communications, packaging
and design communities with their next challenge. Do we need to give
up white paper or can the industry provide workable alternatives to
Bleaching agents are added to pulping operations in stages-usually according
to each mill's own specific recipe. Well into the 80s, chlorine gas
was the bleaching agent of choice for most mills for obvious reasons-it
did a great job of whitening the pulp, enabling papermakers to achieve
higher and higher brightness levels. Most market pulp today is bleached
to a degree of brightness that was just not possible 20 years ago.
In fact, the classification of paper into its common categories, ie
"Premium", No. 1", "No. 2" etc. is done primarily
by evaluating brightness and opacity. This labeling system which equates
value with brightness has undoubtedly contributed to the increased specification
of papers with the highest brightness levels. In actuality, since brightness
is based on light reflectivity measured in a controlled setting, once
a sheet exceeds a level of 80, it is not likely to be perceived by most
people to be noticeably brighter in daylight or typical reading conditions.
The problem with chlorine begins when it combines with organic material
[wood fiber] under extremely high temperatures-as it does in paper mills
and in the carburetor of your car-to produce a whole range of organochlorines-synthetic
compounds almost unknown in natural systems. Dioxin is probably the
most well known organo-chlorine as well as one of the most toxic. Remember
Agent Orange, DDT and PCB? They all contain dioxin, a known carcinogen,
linked to a whole range of reproductive disorders, maligancies and birth
defects in fish and animals, and increasingly thought to play a role
in suppressing immune systems.
As concern over the production of organochlorines grew, mills moved
from using chlorine gas to a variety of chlorinated compounds such as
chlorine dioxide and sodium hypochlorite. While these minimize dioxin
formation by almost 80%, they are still far from benign. Their use produces
a whole variety of unknown-and often unnamed-organochlorines measured
collectively in AOX (adsorbable
organic halogen) levels.
Part of the onus of organochlorines is their tendency to bioaccumulate.
By the time we eat the large fish, that ate the smaller fish, that ate
the tiny fish, that ate the snail, chlorinated compound levels can have
reached concentrations of hundreds of thousands of times greater than
when they were measured in the sediments where the unsuspecting snail
Pulp mills use and discharge millions of gallons of water each day,
diluting dioxin to often non-measurable levels. But chlorinated compounds
are synergistic, creating more damage together than they do separately.
Thus, it is misleading to judge the health of our waters by a non-measurable
level of dioxin in one mill's wastewater. For example, bleached kraft
mill effluent is responsible for about 40% of the dioxin contamination
of the Columbia River here in the Northwest, to the detriment of eagles,
otters and other river-dependent animals, because there are 10 or more
mills located on the Columbia, each one probably discharging "non-measurable
"levels of dioxin.
Consumers in Sweden, West Germany and Austria are leading the demand
for Totally Chlorine Free (TCF)
paper - a market that European mills are scrambling to satisfy.
To compete in these foreign markets, and pass import standards, American
mills need to meet these standards.
In 1993, elemental chlorine consumption by US paper mills fell by 50%,
largely due to this industry-wide shift to meet ECF standards. The route
most American mills have taken, however, is retooling their plants to
solve the dioxin problem with chlorine dioxide substitution, known as
Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF).
However, TCF proponents claim that eliminating chlorine altogether is
the only way to put an end to the toxic by-products.
The EPA's recent Cluster Rule
may make things even more complicated. This legislation proposes to
limit effluents from America's paper mills, and is the first-ever attempt
to address air and water emissions simulataneously. A mill's effluent
limits would be based on their combined AOX discharge. This could present
a real challenge for mills still bleaching with any chlorine-based chemicals.
Since the ultimate goal for both ECF and TCF technology is a closed
loop system where everything is recycled, known as Totally
Effluent Free (TEF) technology, a continued dependance on chlorine-based
chemicals will hinder and lengthen this process considerably.
There are alternatives to chlorine compound bleaching. Oxygen, ozone
and hydrogen peroxide all bleach by oxygenation not chlorination. These
methods can easily produce a sheet with a brightness level of 80. However,
since most virgin pulp operations in the United States have invested
in retooling their plants for ECF bleaching, switching now to ECF would
be at an additional expense since the two technologies are not substitutable.
In addition, there are acknowledged ways to reduce the need for chlorine
bleaching, such as better washing of the pulp and longer "cooking"
of the fibers to remove as much lignin as possible at an early stage;
and reducing or eliminating defoamers that contain dioxin precursors.
These processes are routinely used for rebleaching deinked fiber, and
are often labeled as Processed
Chlorine Free (PCF), which means essentially that no new chlorine
has been added to the bleaching and pulping of the virgin fiber but
there may be dioxins present in the recycled content of the pulp.
Perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves is how white
is white enough? Once you know the consequences, that bright white sheet
starts to look a lot less attractive.
an annual report on raspberry-colored cover stock and creme text and
print 1 million copies. People look at this annual report, rip out or
copy the financial pages, and either recycle it or throw it away. If
they live in the Seattle metro area and they throw it away, it will
end up in Oregon in a landfill. If they recycle it, depending on whether
it's collected from their office or their home, there's a good chance
that it will end up at a deinking plant.
Deinking is the process of removing printed inks and finishing materials
from the reusable fiber of paper. In the last 20 years or so, the increased
and varied number of new printing techniques have complicated this process.
Photocopying and laser printing, flexo-printing inks, UV and heatset
coatings, hot-melt glues, pressure-sensitive adhesives and FAX paper
all increase the difficulty of deinking. Each deinking plant must determine,
usually in strict proportions, which kinds of printed paper waste and
how much of each kind they can use in their general fiber mix.
Deinking plants are complex entities and mill specific in their design,
since each wastepaper grade has unique physical and chemical properties
and contaminants. A mill planning to use manila file stock will have
to consider that it may contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A
mill planning to use heavily coated grades will need the capability
to handle and dispose of larger quantities of sludge. It's also fairly
common for more unusual "contaminants" to show up in wastepaper
bales - everything from Styrofoam and plastics to engine parts. These
items can cause considerable damage to deinking equipment and if not
sufficently removed, can hinder the future papermaking process as well.
There are just 19 deinking plants in the U.S. Of these only 4 sell deinked
pulp on the open market at about $600-800 / ton (compared with $400-600
/ ton for virgin pulp). The other 15 are integrated mills whose facilities
feed their own systems. Only three commercial paper mills now have deinking
plants of their own: Cross Pointe Paper , Simpson Paper and P.H. Glatfelter
A new deinking plant can cost close to $65 million to open. Obviously,
there must be a clear market for a mill to undertake such an enormous
expenditure. Economically taking the lead may not necessarily be in
any one company's interest but when it becomes established as a baseline
need, it collectively becomes in everyone's best interests to participate.
With Americans generating roughly 600 pounds of paper waste per person
each year, and landfills filling up, deinking plants have the potential
to divert much of this waste and process it again for a second use.
The deinking process has been used in papermaking for a long time. But
developments in deinking technology are increasing rapidly. A new deinking
plant that opened in 1993 in Oregon has in effect created a market for
coated printers' waste with heavy coverage (more than 50% ink on the
trimmings) and FAX and laser paper by developing a proprietary process
for removing these contaminants. Some 300 tons of usable fiber are being
recovered from these paper wastes that would have otherwise gone to
Cross Pointe Papers, a midwestern mill that has been deinking since
1915 likens the basic process to putting clothes in a washing machine,
adding soap and water, and turning on the agitator. After a while, the
water drains out. If your machine is working properly, the dirt goes
out with the water.
It is the final part of this analogy that has kept deinking plants from
being fully embraced by consumers as environmentally beneficial. Many
wonder if deinking printed paper creates many of the same environmental
problems as virgin papermaking. In fact, deinking plants require far
less energy in their operation than do pulp mills, fewer chemicals and
no toxic solvents.
Virtually all contamination in deinking sludge is a result of the pigments,
dyes and chlorinated
compounds that were added to the paper during its original bleaching
and printing processes. If any whitening of the new fiber is necessary,
deinking plants use either oxygen or hydrogen peroxide, compounds that
bleach by oxygenation, not
The European floatation method of deinking is fast becoming more widely
used in America as an adjunct to the inital washing stage. Floatation
works by routing the pulped paper waste through aerated tanks. The ink
particles attach themselves onto air bubbles in the tanks and are separated
Most sludge produced by deinking plants ends up in privately owned landfills.
It's usually a mix of fiber, ink, and clay and titanium dioxide and
is generally considered nonhazardous, although this can vary from state
to state and each mill must verify their operation. Sludge can be handled
by incineration and ash disposal or landfilling (procedures which require
that the sludge be tested for toxicity, ignitability, reactivity and
corrosivity and for leachable forms of heavy metals). If it is determined
to be nonhazardous, the sludge can be directed to beneficial reuses
such as concrete, road filler and building materials. Some sludge is
currently applied to farmlands or treefarms as a soil supplement, but
the operation is hindered by the uncertainty of future liability due
to potential accumulation of PCBs or heavy metals.
Since no current disposal method is ideal, keeping toxins out of the
paper that will eventually be deinked seems like the best way to ensure
that a non-toxic sludge will result. Perhaps the most environmentally-sound
use of wastepaper is recycled paper made from nondeinked postconsumer
waste. No rebleaching is used and the pulp recovered is taken directly
out of the consumer waste stream.
a dizzying array of printing inks, each formulated for a specific printing
process and specific substrate. What they have in common are their three
primary components: pigment, vehicle, and binder.
The pigment, a powder, carries the color; the vehicle is a liquid that
allows the pigment to be applied, and the binder attaches the pigment
to the substrate being printed.
oil content The
use of vegetable oils as vehicles in printing inks is not new. They
were quite common before the use of coated papers and high-speed, heatset
web printing became more widespread in the 70s - a process that required
fast-drying inks with solvents that evaporated quickly. Now, vegetable-oil
inks are back and the reasons for specifying them - and the benefits
- are often unclear.
The primary advantage of specifying a vegetable-oil lithographic ink
is that it has a significantly lower volatile organic compound (VOC)
level. VOCs are primary contributors
to air and water pollution, as well as being a hazard to pressroom workers.
If you choose a vegetable-oil sheetfed inks, the VOC level can be as
low as 0-1%, compared with upwards of 25-40% for their petroleum-oil
equivalents. (The VOC rating of an ink using EPA
Method 24 is roughly equivalent to the percentage of petroleum-oil
solvent in its formulation.) Additional benefits come from using oils,
derived from a renewable resource, which is safer in its extraction,
transportation and refining processes.
In Canada, canola oil (literally, "Canadian oil") has become
the replacement solvent of choice. Canola is widely grown in Canada.
Here in America, because of extensive marketing by the American Soybean
Association, soybean oil has succeeded in dominating the market. In
fact, any of a variety of vegetable or fruit oils-from corn to walnut
to coconut - can replace the petroleum content of inks and individual
presses have their favorites.
Currently, flexographic and gravure inks cannot be formulated with any
of the known vegetable oils. For heatset web inks, vegetable oil content
will be lower than in sheetfed, since in heatset, ink dries when oil
evaporates from the paper. For coldset web (news), which dries by absorption,
some inks are now completely vegetable-based in their oil content.
In press performance, vegetable inks offer many benefits. Ink hold out
is better, resulting in less dot gain. Since the oil is lighter in color,
ink colors are brighter and cleaner. Trapping and ghosting are less
of a problem. But because vegetable-oil inks are high in solids which
draw water to them, they can have longer setting times and less rub
oil content, an ink is made up of close to 50% pigment, traditionally
derived from petroleum byproducts, metals and clays. Over the years,
most of the toxic heavy metals which are known carcinogens such as lead,
cadmium and chromium have been replaced in lithographic inks, mainly
with carbon-based substitutes. Lead chromates, however, are still found
in flexographic inks used for packaging. And metallics and fluorescents,
which are 70-80% pigment, always carry heavy metals.
But litho inks do still contain barium, copper, zinc, aluminum, manganese
and cobalt; and certain colors have the possibility of exceeding current
EPA threshold levels for these elements in their most common formulations.
(Note: Irregardless of whether an ink is vegetable or petroleum-based,
its pigment content will be the same.) For more on colors that exceed
current EPA maximuns on copper and barium, download Partners in Design's
Colors? Copper and Barium in PMS Colors.
When these elements break down under acidic conditions (as they can
in landfills) or when they mix with solvents (as they do during washup
on press) they can become a cause for concern when deinke or buried
in landfills. When printed solid waste is buried in landfills, the heavy
metals can potentially leach into groundwater and eventually into tap
water. To compound the problem, incineration (the favored method of
treating solid waste in many areas) concentrates the heavy metals in
ash residue and what's not captured by adequate convertors can result
in air-to-water pollution.
Barium and copper, although not classified as true heavy metals, can,
in certain forms, produce effects like heavy
metals. Barium is federally regulated as a toxic constituent (TC)
and copper and zinc are acutely toxic to aquatic life in certain forms.
Zinc is a necessary component of metallic golds, bronzes, and tinted
shades; aluminum is present in silver and gold and manganese and cobalt
are routinely used as drying agents.
It is infinitely better to encourage research and development among
ink manufacturers for nontoxic
pigment substitutes than to hope for ideal containment conditions
in landfills and incineration plants. For local information of disposal
of ink and classifcation of hazardous waste, contact your State Department
Specification of ToySafe
inks (alternative non-heavy metal based formulations) is an option,
and the cost is comparable except for some of the warmest reds and Process
Blue, but ToySafe inks present compromises in gloss, color, and light-fastness.
Ultimately, until ink companies can develop workable alternative pigments,
nonspecification of the potentially toxic colors may be the best way
that designers can keep these questionable ingredients out of the waste
industry is a major source of acidic and alkaline waste from the chemicals
used in making film and washing press equipment. These alcohol fountain
solutions, and cleaning solvents used by printers are an even more troublesome
source of VOC emissions in
pressrooms than ink. The most common solvent - isoproply alcohol (IPA)
- is 100% VOC and is extremely volatile. More than half of all VOCs
emitted from the sheetfed pressroom are from IPA.
In Southern California, as well as in New Jersey, New York and Illinois,
stringent legislation currently limits daily VOC emission levels from
printers to a per day maximum. Clearly, this is a serious pollutant.
To simply keep their presses running, this has forced one-third of the
American offset print industry to switch to alcohol-free or alcohol
Many printers here in the Northwest and in Canada are voluntarily making
the decision to go alcohol-free before regulations are imposed. It is
a long and expensive process, requiring a shop to fit presses with new
blankets and rollers, test substitute products and perhaps most importantly,
gain the support of press operators, who are used to relying on alcohol
to solve many ink-and-water balance problems. (IPA is a very forgiving
additive which overcomes numerous dampening system problems.) Running
alcohol-free thus requires increased operator skill and customer patience
during as substitutes improve.
The results of making the transition, however, can be a significantly
more healthy worker environment and upwards of 90% less VOC emissions.
Alcohol-laced fountain solutions are kept away from the wastewater stream
and less ink is required for each job, because color reproduces more
strongly under alcohol-free running.
waterless printing Waterless
printing is another more environmentally benign option becoming more
widely available. Also known as "dry" printing, waterless
printing eliminates all fountain solutions, substituing instead hollow
rollars containing a cooling solution that controls color evenness.
Waterless plates (produced with traditional film seperation methods)
also eliminate fountain solutions, and allowresolutions of 300 to 600
line printing. When combined with recycled papers, waterless presses
also perform better providing less linting and stretching, truer inks
colors, better traps and less make-ready.
direct imaging With
the iminent onset of direct imaging-digital images taken direct from
a prepress system onto a dry printing plate - the next wave of printing
technology change is about to begin, with all filmaking and chemicals,
including fountain solutions eliminated. Line screen resolution maximum
is expected to be about 150 - perfectly adequate for most projects.