Environmental decisions made in the pressroom can be key to the profitability of printing businesses, reports Wayne Robinson
With margins for most printers under increasing pressure, and in the light of recent paper prices likely to be even more so, hard pressed printers are looking wherever they can to increase efficiencies, with the pressroom a key area to make those efficiencies.
The pressroom, and particularly the consumables are also becoming the focal point in the race to green printing, and with an increasing number of print buyers now looking to printers to provide some green credentials so they inturn can prove their own environmental credentials. Everything from plates, to paper, to inks and chemicals is now under scrutiny.
These two factors, the need to increase efficiencies and to become environmentally responsible, are often linked. To give an example Sydney’s well known green printer Focus Press began using an ink cartridge system instead of the ink tins, and is now moving to an ink pumping system. The net effect will be to reduce the 7-10 per cent waste levels down to zero, saving around a tonne of ink a year. Focus has also built an on-press ink removal system, with all waste ink recycled. Focus is also one of the country’s fastest growing printers, with print buyers eager to leverage the environmentally friendly printing in their own reports.
Like everything in life you can’t stand still or you run the risk of going backwards. Almost all credible sustainability validations require that sustainability is improved year on year, so there has to be less waste this year than last, less fossil fuel power consumed, less chemicals in the pressroom. However while printers come to grips with the new need for sustainability they are becoming increasingly heartened by the progress of those that have fully embraced green print, and in what is too much of a con-incidence all seem to be growing rapidly.
Companies such as Finsbury Green, Fishprint, Focus Press are both in the vanguard of sustainable printing, and among the fastest growing in the country.
Fortunately for printers their suppliers are acutely aware of the environmental imperative. At drupa every press conference without exception had a feature on the environmental benefits of that particular companies products, and why they were environmentally beneficial.
One of the biggest environmental developments has been In plate processing, previously of course done through the plate processor with copious amount of chemicals.
Now the three main plate producers; Agfa, Kodak and Fujifilm have or are all developing various levels of processless plates, for both thermal and violet plates.
Agfa has launched its :Azura plate, the TS for thermal and V for violet. The :Azura plates are chemistry free, with the gumming to lift off the non-imaged area applied off-press. Thus the :Azxura plates are chemistry free, but not entirely process free as its rivals are. However proponents of the Agfa solution would say that having everything off press means no potential issues, while the plates that effectively have on-press processing (with the dampening fount) adds another variable to the printing.
Kodak’s Thermal Direct and Fujifilm’s Brilla HD PRO-T are similarly chemical free - and water free - and there is no processing at all. But they are called on-press activated because the dampening rollers of the press remove non-printing area of the plate during start-up.
Arguments rage between the vendors in respect to the environmental, production and quality merits of the different systems, printers will need to talk to the vendors to determine which plate will work for them. However by eliminating plate chemistry printers will be taking a significant step to green credibility, and all three plates certainly do this, the era of chemical processing for plates is over.
When it comes to the issue of sustainability paper is right in the cauldron of popular debate, and usually in a negative position. Sadly popular perception has paper as one of the world’s biggest environmental threats, when in reality paper companies are responsible for the greening of the planet at a level that no other business can come close to. There are now more forests in the develop world than there were 100 years ago, and in the last year or two the Asian paper companies have been working very hard to establish their own environmental credentials.
Radical greenies, the ill informed and populist politicians would have us believe that the world’s papermakers are plundering the planet for trees, chopping down the rainforests vital for our survival as they slash and burn their way across the developing world in order that rich westerners can have massive Saturday newspapers and a plethora of magazines catering to every whim and fancy. The reality is totally different, blindingly obviously so to those that bother to think about it for more than a nano second - the paper makers need to plant more trees than they harvest simply to stay in business, you can’t make paper without trees.
The world’s papermakers are moving rapidly towards externally validated paper production, as they recognise that the market for non-validated paper in diminishing rapidly. Even the two giants of Indonesian paper manufacturing, Asian Pulp & Paper and April Paper have climbed aboard the environmental express, both recently winning accolades for their pro-active environmental stance. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index, ecognised as the world’s premier listing of environmentally responsible companies has more papermarkers than anyone else on it.
For printers seeking to develop and communicate their environmental awareness to existing and potential customers there are various levels of external accreditation that come with paper reams. Firstly though if paper is not externally accredited it cannot claim with any substance to be green, and should be avoided if you are seeking to present yourself as green. Claiming to be green, or use green products, that have tenuous claims to be environmentally friendly Is called greenwashing, and is seriously frowned upon by the regulatory authorities, in fact the ACCC will hit you with a mighty big fine if they discover you have been engaged In greenwashing.
The two major labels to ask your merchant for in regard to environmental paper production are FSC and PEFC, paper having these are certified as environmentally friendly, because they come from sustainable forests.
Inks have already undergone a huge transformation in the past 20 years, moving completely away from the heavy metals such as lead and cadmium that were used as pigments for yellow and orange.
Soy based inks have long been known for their environmental qualities, but vegetable inks are the area that print is now looking towards. Interestingly and just to prove there are two sides to every coin even ‘green inks’ such as soy based inks may have a negative environmental impact, looking at the bigger picture you could argue about their growing situation - are forests cleared to make way for them, and do they use GM (genetic modification).
Australia in fact does not have a strong uniform line on inks, it varies state by state, printers in Victoria for instance have more regulation than printers in NSW, and nowhere is it anywhere near as stringent as European Union law. And to make matters more confusing for printers VOC levels (volatile organic compounds which are released into the atmosphere by inks as a result of the printing process) will vary from press to press as a result of different papers, different fount solutions and different atmospheric conditions. Developing a sustainable ink strategy needs to be undertaken in consultation with reputable ink suppliers, suppliers who know what they are talking about. Ink waste is a key aspect of printer sustainability.
Pressroom chemicals used to be seriously problematic, but thanks to the efforts of the manufacturers many of the serious issues are now resolved, for instance there are no hydrocarbon solvents used any more. However there are many options for pressroom chemicals for printers, but not all of them beneficial to human beings, and as usual it is the branded chemicals that will be the best bet to ensure that your staff are being treated well.
One of the key indicators to measure the environmental impact of chemicals is the flashpoint. Every flammable liquid has a vapour pressure, which is a function of that liquid’s temperature. As the temperature increases, the vapour pressure increases. As the vapour pressure increases, the concentration of evaporated flammable liquid in the air increases. Hence, temperature determines the concentration of evaporated flammable liquid in the air under equilibrium conditions. Different flammable liquids require different concentrations of the fuel in air to sustain combustion. The flash point is that minimum temperature at which there is a sufficient concentration of evaporated fuel in the air for combustion to propagate after an ignition source has been introduced. Essentially the higher the flashpoint the less harmful the solvent. With a flashpoint of 100oC virtually no solvent is released into the atmosphere, while chemicals with a flashpoint of 50oC release an unacceptable volume into your printworks. As with inks printers will find their chemistry suppliers, well the good ones, will be able to furnish them with a host of data on implementing environmental policies in the pressroom.
Far from being seen as an expense the implementation of environmental policies and products in the pressroom can lead to significant financial rewards, both through waste reduction and increased efficiencies, and through winning new customers through delivering accredited environmental benefits.