Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Image is Everything? Part 2 - the Issue of Ink

So, if you read the first article in this series (Image is Everything? The Problem of Paper), you've probably already learned a good deal about mindful paper choices when it comes to your marketing materials, and even your everyday office paper. But paper isn't the only thing to worry about when it comes to making your marketing materials eco-friendly – the inks, and sometimes even the colors, you use in your materials also impact the environmental consciousness of your finished product.

WHAT'S on my business cards?
All inks, no matter what the printing process being used, are composed of three essential elements: pigment, a vehicle (which helps the ink adhere to the paper) and a binder (which holds the whole mess together). Traditional offset printing inks (the inks used to print your business cards, letterheads and brochures) often use petroleum-based oil as a vehicle. In addition to being a non-renewable resource, petroleum-based inks release a high level of VOC's (Volatile Organic Chemicals) when used, which leads to increased air and water pollution, not to mention posing a health hazard for pressroom workers. However, with concern for the environment rising, more and more printers are starting to use inks which use vegetable oil as a vehicle. Vegetable-based inks offer quite a few benefits – aside from having quite low VOC ratings (meaning healthier press workers and less pollution), the colors also come out brighter and cleaner, since vegetable oil has a lighter color than petroleum-based oil. Some inks, however, such as the inks used for packaging, don't currently have veggie-oil based formulations.

In addition to the oil that's used as a vehicle, printing inks also contain up to 50% pigment, which gives the ink its color. Although pigments have come a long way since the old days (known carcinogens such as lead, cadmium and chromium have been replaced in most offset inks, although lead chromium still exists in flexography inks used for packaging), certain heavy metals, such as barium, copper, zinc, aluminum, manganese cobalt and others, do still exist in offset inks (some colors actually exceed what the EPA considers "safe" in their most common formulations), and metallic and fluorescent inks will always carry heavy metals. So as pretty as the gold and silver ink might be, it's still toxic and should be avoided.

The issue with toxic pigments isn't always apparent when a piece is being created. If the ink is set properly using proper precautions, it will rarely cause an issue during the life of the piece. However, once you discard the piece, toxic materials in the ink can break down in landfills and leach into the water system; or, if the piece is incinerated (which happens to a lot of the nation's trash), the heavy metals can concentrate in ash residue and lead to air-to-water pollution. The Seattle design firm Partners in Design has some great information on the subject, including a helpful chart listing which colors should definitely be on your "no" list: http://www.pidseattle.com/ECO/toxcol.pdf.

So, all of this stuff is great to know, but how do you make sure your marketing materials are being printed with the right ink? The answer is simple: talk to your printer, or your designer. Most printers will be happy to accommodate a request for veggie ink, as well as recommend good eco-friendly papers for your print jobs, and many designers, such as myself, have no problem researching and implementing more eco-friendly production methods. The key is to let them know that you're looking for it – the more printers and designers hear about the desire for eco-friendliness, the more attention we pay to making sure your materials fit the bill.

Greening the office

All right, you've done what you have to do. You've got your business cards, and they're printed on 100% post-consumer waste paper with veggie-based ink. You write your designer a glowing letter of appreciation on your recycled letterhead and begin to print it out… but then you start wondering about the ink in your office printer. Is IT toxic?

Well, to be honest, I really don't know. I've spent some time looking at all of the major manufacturer's sites, and not a one of them talks at all about the eco-friendliness of their inks. In fact, Epson (one of the more popular manufacturers of home/office printers and inks, and the darling of the design business, because frankly, the color ROCKS) has no information whatsoever about their environmental commitment, which is one of the reasons I now have an HP printer instead. There are quite a few ink-replacing kits and conversion kits that help you "green" your home printers, as well as remanufactured cartridges from office supply places, but honestly, I don't recommend them. Oftentimes, especially if you're printing a lot of photos, the ink from another manufacturer's ink might not look as good, or last as long, as the ink from the manufacturer of your printer.

Despite the troubling lack of information about potential ink toxicity, the manufacturers of printers and related accessories have made great strides in recent years in terms of caring for the environment. HP, Canon, Lexmark and Xerox all have free ink/toner recycling programs, which will let you ship used cartridges back to them for recycling (NOT remanufacturing, which is where a company takes a used cartridge and refills it for sale). In addition to these, quite a few places (any Staples store anywhere, or MicroCenter on Memorial Drive, and InkTecZone in on Mass Ave. in Cambridge just to name a few) will gladly accept your used cartridges for recycling, and Staples even offers you $3 off your purchases for dropping off your ink (Which reminds me, I have to get myself down there sometime soon…)!

Lexmark and Epson don't seem to have any information on their websites in regards to cartridge-recycling programs or their environmental commitment, but I was able to locate (after much poking around – they don't make this stuff easy to find) the following information on HP's, Canon's and Xerox's sites:

HP's cartridge-recycling program:

Canon's cartridge-recycling program:

Xerox's environmental commitment, which includes responsible paper outsourcing as well as cartridge recycling and Energy-Star rated office machines:

© 2006 Dani Nordin/the zen kitchen. Previously published at gather.com and notes from the zen kitchen, the monthly newsletter of the zen kitchen. To sign up for the newsletter, visit tzk-design.com.

No comments: