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Green printing: it's not just a color, it's an attitude.

In the printing industry these days, green is more than just a mixture of yellow and blue inks. The green that's on the minds of a lot of printers, their customers and the government is the green that means saving the environment.

"I believe that as far as the country is concerned, environmental awareness was created in the '80s, and environmental compliance will take place in the '90s," says Robert Shepard, president of Shepard Poorman Communications in Indianapolis, one of a number of Indiana printers becoming more attuned to the realities of green printing. Shepard and other printers believe it's best to make environmental improvements now, before the government makes them mandatory.

Environmental laws affecting printers "have been changing in the last five to 10 years, and are continuing to change," acknowledges Larry Brankle, president of Ad Craft Printers in Merrillville. "It's added to the cost of doing business."

One way costs have been affected has to do with disposal of inks and other chemicals used in the printing process, Brankle says. "We have to dispose of waste a lot differently, with licensed disposal units."

"You can't just throw stuff away anymore. You have to use proper disposal methods," agrees Eric Petersen, chairman and CEO of Petersen Graphics Group in South Bend. But, he adds, the cost increase isn't all that great for most printers because using disposal methods now considered proper is nothing new. "We basically always got rid of things that way anyway."

Interestingly, inks and solvents are not as much a part of the public's environmental dialogue as other issues, but they are of major concern to printers. Inks are considered a hazardous material because traditionally their oil base has come from petroleum products. These inks produce what are known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are materials that get into the air and create smog. Chemicals used to clean presses and make printing plates may contain materials that would damage the environment if not disposed of properly. And while the so-called "fountain solution" that is a critical part of the offset-printing process is mostly water, printers have had to thin the solution with isopropyl alcohol, which environmentalists and the government don't want to see dumped in large quantities.

The short-term solution, already mentioned above, is to make sure such hazardous materials are handled and disposed of properly. Besides having qualified people cart off such waste, printers make use of special ventilation and filtration systems and catalytic converters to remove VOCs created in the printing process so they won't escape into the atmosphere.

The longer-term solution is to cut down on the use of hazardous materials. Randy Roberts, president of Lincoln Printing Corp. in Fort Wayne, discusses the issue of alcohol in the fountain solution. "We'd rather not use it at all, and the challenge is to get rid of it; our goal is zero percent alcohol. We've gone from 14 percent or 15 percent down to 4 percent now."

Shepard Poorman also has been working in that direction, and Shepard reports that his firm has now achieved that goal of alcohol-free printing. Other printers will have to follow suit soon, because Environmental Protection Agency standards call for the banning of alcohol in fountain solutions starting next year.

Evansville-based printer Keller-Crescent Co. also is working toward the long-term goal of cutting down on the use of hazardous chemicals. "Over the last several years there have been substitute chemicals that have come out," says Larry Stunkel, personnel supervisor. Keller-Crescent has been making use of substitutes wherever possible.

Stunkel says the company has found that some clients are concerned about what it is doing in terms of phasing out hazardous chemicals. "We get some interesting requests from some of our clients who are interested in this. They've sent us questionnaires."

Shepard Poorman, meanwhile, is closing in on another goal, Shepard says: getting reliable results with soybean oil-based inks. Soy inks have been touted as one solution to the hazardous nature of petroleum-based inks. By replacing some or all of the petroleum-based oil with oil from soybeans, the ink becomes less toxic. Soy inks produce significantly smaller amounts of VOCs. What's more, reliance on the non-renewable resource of petroleum is diminished, replaced by reliance on a renewable agricultural product (it goes without saying that soybean growers are all for the change). Soy inks also produce more vibrant colors.

Sounds great, but here's the catch. Soy inks don't dry as readily as petroleum-based inks. It's not a big problem for newspapers because newsprint absorbs a lot of ink and thus dries faster, and consequently newspapers are major users of soy-based inks. But printing on coated paper is harder to do because absorption of the ink is minimal. Getting good results with soy inks involves a lot of trial and error.

Shepard says his company has been doing a lot of that experimentation, and he believes Shepard Poorman can achieve quality with soy inks that's equal to that of petroleum-based inks. "You have to work with different formulations and become adept at using it. It creates a lot of headaches, but it's worth it."

There's some debate as to the cost of soy-based inks. Though Shepard says major printers often can negotiate deals that make soy inks competitive with petroleum-based inks, other printers have found soy costs to be 20 percent to 50 percent higher.

A product more often mentioned in the green-printing debate is recycled paper, which like soy ink raises economic questions because it costs more than virgin paper. Petersen says some of his clients inquire about using paper with recycled content, but in general "they don't want to use it once they find out it costs more than other types. We've had very few people get on the recycled-paper bandwagon." Brankle says Ad Craft also has gotten inquiries about recycled paper but has not had all that many clients actually decide to use it.

The interest in recycled paper is familiar to Brankle. "It's going through the same cycle it went through about 15 years ago, and then it died out. I don't know if it'll die out this time; I do see more paper mills involved this time than there were previously."

The issue of using recycled paper, however, is a bit tricky, printers warn. When most people think of recycled paper, they envision paper made out of people's trash that has been diverted from going into the landfill. That's what's known as "post-consumer waste," waste generated by the final use of a product. In reality, a lot of paper marked "recycled" contains only a small percentage of recycled materials, and most of that may come from scraps turned in by printers or the mills themselves. And that's not post-consumer waste, it's pre-consumer waste. The difference is significant, because if the goal of recycling is saving landfill space, the target must be post-consumer waste paper.

A lot of printers find the whole situation somewhat amusing. They know from their own experience that pre-consumer waste paper has been turned into new paper for a long time, long before it became fashionable to display the recycled-paper logo. "We've sold scrap paper for recycling forever," Petersen says. "That goes back to when I was a kid 25 or 30 years ago."

"There was always a lot of recycling going on, but nobody made a big deal about it," Brankle adds.

"All of the paper waste we have, we recycle," Shepard agrees, "but that's pre-consumer."

The problem with post-consumer waste paper is getting the ink off, or deinking. For one thing, it's expensive, and it's difficult to wind up with a product that's as clean as the pulp that goes into virgin paper. Plus, says Shepard, "when you deink paper, you get into the issue of what to do with the ink," which is, of course, a hazardous waste.

Even if the cost is higher and the quality sometimes lower, there are some advantages to using environmentally friendly materials in printing that go beyond the environmental considerations. One is image. Companies that have their materials printed on recycled paper and/or with soy-based inks may find favor with some of their customers. There are logos that may be included on printed materials calling attention to the use of soy inks and recycled paper. "We encourage people to use them," says Roberts.

Companies that don't use the services of commercial printers all that often may do more printing of their own than occurs to them at first. Take, for example, the laser printer, which is becoming increasingly commonplace in American offices. It seems like a simple little device, but it has a set of environmental considerations all its own.

A key component in a laser printer is the toner cartridge, which holds and dispenses the toner, a dusty substance that serves the same purpose as ink by creating images on paper. According to Rocky Tilson, vice president of Laser-Grafix in Indianapolis, some 30 million to 40 million of these cartridges are tossed into the trash every year. "That's a lot of waste," he says, and the bits of toner left behind in those discarded cartridges can be considered a low-level hazardous waste.

It's wasteful in a number of ways. First of all, it is taking up space in landfills. Also, trashing toner cartridges is wasteful of money and resources because the cartridges can be recycled or remanufactured, which is something that Tilson's firm specializes in. Almost all of a cartridge is practically indestructible, except for a photosensitive drum, which does wear out with use. When Laser-Grafix remanufactures a toner cartridge, it installs a specially coated drum that can be recycled several times. When the drum reaches the end of its usable life, it becomes under normal circumstances the only part of the toner cartridge that ever needs to be tossed.

Unlike some types of recycling that are more costly than buying new, remanufacturing toner cartridges saves money, a green consideration that is, perhaps, even more persuasive than the environmental factors. A new cartridge may run between $80 and $120, while Laser-Grafix charges just under $80 for the first recycle that includes the new drum, and just under $50 for subsequent recycles.

And, Tilson adds, his company puts in more toner than do the original manufacturers, allowing his cartridges to yield as many as 50 percent more pages. A big-city law firm that generates huge volumes of laser-printed materials can save up to $50,000 a year by going the recycled route, he estimates. There's one other kicker, Tilson says: Quite a few of the cartridges that sell as new may actually contain recycled parts, anyway. Enough companies are choosing toner-cartridge recycling that the business has been ranked among the top 100 fastest-growing industries.

The bottom line on green printing is that the bottom line can be affected in different ways. Recycled paper costs more money, recycled toner cartridges cost less, and soy-based inks may cost about the same or they may cost more. But, like Wilford Brimley on the oatmeal commercials, people in the business say it's the right thing to do.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:environmental conciousness in the printing industry
Author:Kaelbe, Steve
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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