Printing Inks and Their Impact on the Environment

On different points in their use circle that may vary from raw material phase, manufacture, application, or in-use and disposal, printing inks can generate a potential impact on the environment. The process of optimizing printing technology as to meet most of the ecological principals available even goes back to the carbon footprint of an ink that is generally linked to substantial energy use and elevated transportation costs.

One of the reasons why printing substances should be replaced with renewable resources comprise all the toxic heavy metals that are include in the raw materials used in ink fabrication cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead and mercury. Even though the quantities of these chemicals come in small concentrations, they are recognized as being hazardous for human health. Nonetheless, the types of solvents used in printing inks can photo-degrade rapidly in the atmosphere, while their contribution to lower atmosphere ozone is rather small. However, the fact that inks are manufactured and transported to the place of actually use generated the production of nitrogen oxides that reacts in the presence of sun-light by forming photo-chemical smog. Therefore, inks can have an impact on the troposphere, with fewer negative effects on the upper atmosphere.

Printing ink manufacture is not a significant polluting activity, as only affects the air and not the soil and the water. While printing processes are carried out in specially purposed buildings with impervious floors to protect the earth, discharges of water-borne wastes to sewers that develop from the manufacture of inks are closely monitored as to avoid water pollution. However, potential emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and pigment dusts resulting from ink fabrication can affect the atmosphere.

The effective application of printing inks is the top air pollutant found in offices that use printing equipment, as the emissions of VOC usually reside in: organic solvent-containing founts in offset printing processes, organic solvent press cleaning materials in offset printing processes and pre-press production of flexographic plates. However, these emissions can be controlled throughout two types of processes that involve both recovery (adsorption, desorption and condensation) and destruction (catalytic thermal oxidation, thermal oxidation, biological scrubbing). Moreover, applying printing inks also involves the production of process waste and press returns that can be wisely reused. While cleaning fluids can also be recycled, empty, dry ink containers that are made out of plastic are best suitable for incineration processes.

The re-use of printing solvents is rather questionable as the ink on printed material is classed as a contaminant, along with labels, adhesives etc. Even though the amount of dried ink is so small that it doesn’t represent a major hazard, the re-use of the majority of printed articles is not technically viable. Moreover, it is not recommend for printed material to be recycled for use in packaging, which will be in contact with food. Likewise, a proper solution taken in terms of reuse of printed packaging, especially for plastic based packaging, is collection and sorting. Printed matter, however, can be incinerated in plants with energy recovery, leading to overall environmental benefit.