Spreading the sustainability message - Part 4

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

This is the fourth part of a series of blogs suggesting ideas for topics addressed in environmental policy statements.

Industry associations serving the needs of journalists, illustrators, designers, authors, publishers, printers and so on are largely passive when it comes to improving environmental impacts. In the previous blogs we’ve considered the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, emissions controls and management and waste handling. But how about materials usage and considering what’s required to produce a given print product and its recycling?

In the newspaper business, which uses newsprint, this is an easy consideration because most newsprint is made from recycled papers. Paper and board recycling should be a no-brainer for any industry association’s mission statement. Another material to consider would be the printing plates, for instance used aluminium or flexo plates. Aluminium plates are a ready source of income for printing companies across the industry, since they can be sold for recycling.

But recycling the photopolymer used to make flexo plates used in newspaper printing, packaging and other applications is a little trickier, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Some manufacturers, such as Flint Group and DuPont offer a recycling service, but you have to pay for it and the waste is generally incinerated rather than being reprocessed into something useful. Far better is to find ways of reusing the material, for instance as chippings to cover horse arenas and playing fields, or as a building material. The trick is to find and work with organisations that can use the used flexo plates without reprocessing them back into their component materials or burning them. This is another opportunity for industry associations to make recommendations or set up partnerships with companies who can build suitable recycling supply chains.

The English have a saying that “where there’s muck there’s brass”, meaning that waste (the muck) is a source of revenue (the brass). Printing plates are already earning their users and manufacturers money through recycling. Innovation and entrepreneurialism can take ideas for reusing plate materials in other ways, to use them in other viable new businesses, based on improving environmental impact and profit. Invention starts with little, tiny things, so maybe printing and publishing industry policy statements will help create small germs of opportunity. Industry associations are ideally placed to kick start new ideas for reducing environmental impact through improved waste handling, from paper to plates. But it takes awareness of the problem before ways of solving it can be worked out.

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The Verdigris Project investigates the environmental impact of print media and provides information about sustainability initiatives for the international printing community. Keep up to date with the weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner.