Eco Inks

While sustainability has attracted greater attention from converters and suppliers alike in recent years, the importance of ink in the process sometimes has been overlooked. Even Wal-Mart, which has been a driving force behind those sustainability efforts, doesn't count “ink” among the dozens of factors it measures with its all-important Scorecard.

But that doesn't mean inks don't play a critical role in helping meet the sustainability goals of all concerned. In recent interviews conducted by PFFC, ink suppliers cited their efforts in the development of new products and the vital role they can play in helping end-users meet their goals of “going green.”

“We support our customers from a sustainability perspective,” says Sun Chemical's Michelle Hearn, director of marketing, North American ink. “A customer can look at sustainability from a number of different ways, including their energy usage and the amount of VOCs [volatile organic compounds] they are releasing into the atmosphere, and inks do play a role.”

Mike Buystedt, general manager-Midwest for Flint Ink's Narrow Web Div., says proper ink utilization can have a direct impact on sustainability efforts, since print quality issues significantly impact waste volume. For example, he says some of the newest generation of water-based inks require very little use of pH adjusters, which can result in fewer operator adjustments, reduced waste, and less bad print.

“When you talk about inks in terms of the volume of ‘material’ that's used, it's not a lot,” says Buystedt. “But when you talk about ink and the way it's used, the impact can be huge if you don't have the right processes in place to make sure you're not creating waste. If you're not proofing your inks prior to going to press, if you're not making color adjustments on press, the amount of waste that's generated is enormous.”

Eco Analysis

Rick Grandke, industry manager for BASF resins, says sustainability “is an integral component” in the company's decisionmaking process. In fact, the company routinely conducts an “eco-efficiency analysis” that compares different products and processes, taking into account such variables as raw materials, energy consumption, land use, emissions, toxicity, and risk potential. Eco-efficiency analysis is applied to reduce energy and material use in the converting process and to keep emissions as low as possible and produce the most sustainable inks.

“Converters and inkmakers will continue to be concerned with product safety, compliance, and the long-term sustainability of their products and processes,” says Grandke. “Therefore, BASF utilizes its eco-efficiency analysis tool to help drive innovations and improve the quality of life.”

Companies such as Flint Ink, BCM Inks, and Graphic Sciences, among others, are developing inks comprised of nonpetroleum-based components like soy, tree resin, corn oil, and even paper to support their customers' sustainability efforts. BCM's new Eekoflex inks, for example, are made from paper residue; pigments have no heavy metals and little or no VOCs.

“Most of the resins out there are petroleum-based,” explains BCM VP Bob Califf. “We've reduced the petroleum that's in inks and replaced it with pine tree resin. We're also taking the black lacquer that's extruded in the pulpmaking process and using that. From a recyclability perspective, it's one step further than soy or anything else.”

“It all derives from what's happening in the environment,” notes Danny Ramos, Graphic Sciences' VP, service operations. “People really want to do their part to be good stewards of the environment and try to help with our dependency on foreign oil.”

Factors To Consider

Robert Waddington, general manager of UVitec Printing Ink, notes ultraviolet inks are sustainable by their nature since “having zero VOCs offers a lot of options for printers who are trying to cut down” on their emissions. However, he says that while there are resins available that come from nonpetroleum sources, such as soy and other vegetable proteins, “they just don't have the integrity, performance, flexibility, and other attributes of petroleum.” At least not yet.

Ramos says Graphic Sciences also has looked at soy, corn oil, and even tree rosin-based inks as sustainable alternatives, “but there are limitations, unfortunately, when it comes to those sorts of things.” For example, he says, they don't maintain certain performance characteristics of conventional acrylic inks.

Notes Buystedt, “One of the downsides of soy technology is that it doesn't have the best moisture-resistance properties, so you do require an overprint varnish for optimum moisture resistance.”

Flint Group introduced HydroSoy water-based flexo inks at Labelexpo to provide printers with a “green option” that is “formulated with renewable resin technology and compliant with sustainable ideals.” The soy-based inks do provide the “essentials” of high print quality, color strength, and press stability, with the goal of improving sustainability “as best as possible in an incremental print process.” But Flint notes that while no ink currently is considered “biodegradable,” inks with low VOCs or made with renewable materials do assist in the sustainability effort.

“The bottom line is to make products that do not diminish the earth's natural resources and to dispose of those in a way that is not harmful to human life or the earth's ecosystems,” explains Mike Impastato, VP business development, Flint Group North American Packaging. “If we move incrementally toward this goal, we are continuously improving the sustainability of our products and processes.”

Sun Chemical's WetFlex system and UniQure inks have been recognized for their low environmental impact with the “Award for Innovation-Environmental” at the Flexotech Intl. Print and Innovation Awards in London, UK.

“We support our customers from a sustainability perspective,” says Hearn, “but they don't have to give up on the high print fidelity at the same time. The wet-on-wet system allows for that. One of the advantages of water-based inks is that they are manufactured with low VOCs, so you reduce the emissions from the ink systems into the atmosphere.”

Mel Weinzimer, director of marketing sales for Polytex Environmental Inks, notes “there was a time when all you had to worry about was functionality: Is the product scrubbable, washable, abrasion resistant? Everything new we develop is focused on health, environmental, and regulatory issues.” After all, he says, “It's a part of our name.”

And for more and more ink suppliers, supporting sustainability has become a part of their culture as well.

Supplier Infot

Contributing Editor Edward Boyle, based in Reading, PA, has covered the converting industry for more than 24 years. Contact him at EJB Communications; 610-670-4680; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Want To Learn More?

Find more information about new ink formulations at Just pull down our “Print” One-Stop and click on “Inks” to find feature articles, columns, and technical reports on ink.

Watch for our upcoming What's New Products Focus on Ink, coming in the March issue.

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