Our Eco Policy

Printing is estimated to be the UK’s 4th most polluting industry, mostly because of high energy and chemical use, and associated waste. Here at Design By If we will always give our clients a sustainable print option along with the standard option in order to encourage and promote the use of sustainable methods of print and packaging.

If you’d like to learn more about how current printing methods damage the environment and how new green technologies can combat this then please read below.

Some of the biggest factors in printing to negatively effect our environment are:

The print industry uses significant amounts of energy. From heating and lighting to powering equipment and final delivery, energy is used at all stages of the print process. It is possible to reduce energy requirements at every stage of the process.

Large quantities of water are used in most printing processes. Water usage can be greatly reduced by waterless printing but also by printing with digital processes. Water usage can be reduced by recycling the water used on presses and measures such as sprinkler and pressure taps. A small number of printing companies are investigating the possibilities of rainwater harvesting.

Relatively high levels of waste are generated by the print process. From printing plates and ink tins to pallets and packaging there is plenty of potential for reducing use, reusing and recycling what’s left.

10 per cent of the UK’s VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) are believed to emanate from the printing industry. As ink dries, the isopropyl alcohol (IPA), used as a damping solution, evaporates at room temperature, releasing VOCs. VOCs are colourless, odourless gases that are harmful to the environment, contributing to global warming and the production of ozone, as well as being hazardous to pressroom workers.

For sheet-fed litho inks there are three main areas of concern:

  1. VOCs – emitted as the ink dries
  2. Heavy metals – these are contained in certain pigments (particularly metallic colours) and can result in environmental and worker health hazards
  3. Non-renewable resources – the main oils in non-vegetable based inks are petroleum-based

It is not possible to generalise about the hazards of ink: the make-up of an ink will depend on the print process, the substrate, even its colour. However, these issues are less of a problem where there is partial replacement of the petroleum oil content with vegetable oil. A typical sheet-fed litho vegetable ink consists of 60 per cent vegetable oil content.

Prior to the 1960s, less harmful vegetable based inks were commonly used for all printing applications. Then petroleum-based (or mineral-based) inks came along, and because, at that time, they were cheaper and performed better, they gradually became the norm – despite the health and environmental issues.

In recent years vegetable based inks have improved greatly – they certainly match the performance of mineral-based inks, and some would say they are superior.


Here are some effective alternatives:

Vegetable based inks
Vegetable based inks use vegetable oil instead of petroleum to varying degrees – hence the word ‘based’ – a vegetable based ink is not necessarily 100 per cent vegetable. Vegetable based inks have much lower rates of VOC emissions than petroleum based inks. Also, in contrast to petroleum based inks, vegetable oils are derived from renewable resources and the inks made from them are more easily removed from waste paper during de-inking. Another plus is that the pigments in the ink do not usually contain heavy metals.

Waterless printing
Waterless printing is basically sheet-fed litho printing using different printing plates and a method of transferring the image to the paper without using water. It eliminates the need for IPA (isopropyl alcohol) and better quality print is claimed through reduced dot gain and improved colour consistency.

Low alcohol printing
A number of printers are now using ‘low-alcohol’ printing techniques which reduce both the need for IPA, in the dampening system, and VOC emissions.

CO2 emissions and offsetting
‘Carbon neutral’ schemes that simply offset carbon emissions by planting trees, are ineffectual because they deal with symptoms rather than addressing the causes. For this reason, the environmental schemes undertaken by printing companies should focus on both reducing emissions and offsetting carbon emissions. (See www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/carbon_offsetting.pdf for a joint FOE, Greenpeace and WWF statement on this issue.)

Why use recycled paper?
There are three main reasons to use recycled fibre:

  1. Lower resource use: Paper manufacture is very resource-intensive. It simply makes no sense to use paper only once, when it can be so easily re-used.
  2. Less landfill: Recycling reduces the amount of waste paper going to landfill. It is predicted that we will run out of landfill sites in the UK during the next decade. Landfills will be replaced by incinerators, whose toxic fall-out has been proven to be harmful to human health. Also, as it biodegrades in landfill (anaerobic conditions), paper produces methane, which is 23 times more powerful than CO2.
  3. No harm to forests: Only when using 100 percent recycled paper can you can be absolutely sure that your product has not had a detrimental effect on any forest.

Processing recovered paper
Superficially, it’s quite straightforward: waste paper and board is collected, sorted and then sold for reuse. Next, the fibre is pulped, screened (to remove foreign particles, contaminants, and fibres not fit for re-use) and then de-inked. It may or may not then be re-bleached.

The extent to which each of these processes is undertaken depends on the quality of the final product. Fibre for reuse in higher quality materials is chosen accordingly: higher quality waste will be used in higher quality new materials; lower grade waste will go into newsprint or packaging. Around 70% of the original volume of recovered paper will be used in a new material.