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In simple terms printing is the application of color to a fabric in a design or pattern. But the nuances of texture, color, and hand all impact the look, feel and performance of the final product.

What are not often apparent when you look at a printed product are the environmental effects and impacts different printing materials and processes can have on our health and the health of the environment. This short piece is intended to give you, the consumer, an overview of the impacts of the many options we need to juggle everyday to bring you a product that is stylish, durable, and a good value AND is manufactured with consideration to lower and minimize its environmental impacts.

As much as we strive to reduce the impacts of our printing, the fact is that there is no environmentally perfect printing system. But for any given printing scenario there are better and best choices. In general these choices strive for fewer toxic ink and process related compounds. Fewer solvents, and less processing in general. There are tradeoffs – get rid of one bad chemical and you may need more water for cleanup – or energy for curing. Remove PVC from the plastisol formulation and ink cost might go up. It is all an environmental balancing act. To make matters even more complicated design, application, durability and price all end up in the balancing act!

It is important to know that no matter what printing systems or systems you are considering (waster based, solvent based, plastisol, etc) the composition of inks varies widely. Some inks contain chemicals that would be classified as hazardous. Inks frequently get their color from the metals or hazardous pigments they contain. Inks containing metals and/or those inks using a solvent carrier are often classified as hazardous. It is the responsibility of those working with them to determine whether the inks used in their operations are hazardous. For assistance in making this determination, review the product MSDS.

Most inks may be recycled: spent inks of different colors are often blended to make black ink. For smaller print shops, consider coordinating with larger plants or newspapers (ones that use rubber or oil based ink) to recycle ink. These businesses usually recycle their inks on-site or ship them off-site in bulk shipments. Also consider purchasing inks from a distributor who will take or buy back unused or spent inks.