5 Steps to Green

Green Converting

Organizations that make environmental responsibility a top priority are realizing that not only are the results great for the environment, they’re also good for business. Lower energy costs, less waste, and invaluable goodwill among customers means potential repeat business.

In the competitive cosmetics and personal care marketplace, the importance of environmentally sustainable products is especially true. As consumers become increasingly savvy, they look for products with all-natural ingredients and pay attention to a brand’s environmental stance.

Undoubtedly, cosmetics and personal care brand managers must turn the same attention to packaging and manufacturing as they do to ingredients. But being environmentally responsible also presents a new set of challenges.

For brand managers, graphic designers, printers, packagers, and converters, the rising cost of operations and consumables means all parties in the supply chain must be mindful to ensure their printed products are created in the most cost-effective ways possible yet still have customer appeal. Add environmental friendliness to the mix and you may get an earful about cost-to-benefit ratios, print quality suffering, and so on.

But eco-friendly design, print, and packaging can, in fact, be cost-effective, good for Mother Nature, and compelling to store shoppers. Just pay a little green-minded attention to five key elements during the project-planning phase.

1. Paper Possibilities
Virgin, Recycled, and Tree-Free | The strongest and most pure paper fiber that comes directly from trees is called virgin fiber. Because it has not undergone prior printing or converting, papers made with virgin fibers can be the cleanest papers available, depending on the bleaching process used. Due to its purity, however, virgin paper has the most direct effect on the consumption of natural resources.

Fortunately, virgin fiber can be traced to its origins via third-party certification programs, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

This “chain of custody” certification assures users that only appropriate trees are used to source the fiber and no old-growth forests are being used.

Recycling has become an increasingly important factor in paper manufacturing. It has been estimated that recovered fiber now accounts for approximately 37% of the domestic raw materials used to make paper products. Recycled paper, in fact, takes much pressure off landfills and forests alike.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund and the Alliance for Environmental Innovation, compared to the manufacture of coated virgin fiber paper, recycled paper offers the following benefits:

  • Reduces total energy consumption by 38%
  • Reduces net greenhouse gas emissions by 40%
  • Reduces particulate emissions by 36%
  • Reduces wastewater by 32%
  • Reduces solid waste by 46%
Over the past decade, recycled paper—which can include post-industrial waste, post-consumer waste (PCW), totally recycled fiber, or blends of each—has greatly improved in quality. In many cases, recycled paper performs as well as virgin stock and at competitive prices.

In addition to being eco-friendly, tree-free (plant) fiber—such as kenaf, hemp, flax, cotton, or combinations thereof—can be used as an alternative to virgin wood pulp. Plant-fiber papers (especially kenaf and hemp) tend to be more durable than virgin wood fiber papers. Kenaf in particular, which contains less lignin than trees, requires fewer chemicals, takes less energy to process, is naturally acid-free, and is recyclable.

Coated Versus Uncoated | Among the myriad choices of packaging materials available for printing and packaging, it is important to remember that coated stock is harder to recycle than uncoated. This is due to the clay coating that gives the paper its smooth, shiny surface characteristics. In fact, during the recycling process, up to 40% less fiber can be extracted from coated paper versus uncoated because of the clay content.

Brand managers and package designers should consider using more uncoated paper. Premium uncoated, post-consumer-waste papers can provide great results in multicolor offset printing. Uncoated paperboard feels natural to the touch, and its tactile appeal is especially suited for fragrances and high-end personal care products where consumers tend to hold on to the secondary packaging.

If a package design must have a smooth surface like that of coated stock, one alternative to consider is supercalendered paper. Supercalendering is a process in which uncoated paper is run through a series of chrome and fiber rollers to produce a smooth surface appearance closer in feel to that of coated paper.

2. Production Specs
Size to Minimize | For print runs of 5,000 or more, consider ordering a custom-size sheet of paper that meets exact design specifications versus a standard-size sheet that would require significant trimming. Doing so minimizes paper, chemical, and energy waste, which translates into dollar savings. Further, when making comps for a job, double-sided, smaller-size, reused, or recycled paper also can be requested from a printer.

Fewer Folds for Less Waste | Complex folding specifications for a printed piece or package design may be appealing, but they require the use of more paper or paperboard, which can increase cost quickly depending on the volume of product being produced. For example, adjusting the size of a pocket or a folded section might reduce complexity.

Other money-saving production tips include the following options:

  • Ganging multiple print jobs that use the same paper stock and ink, thereby reducing paper use and lowering the number of makereadies and plates;
  • Using digital photography where appropriate to reduce or eliminate paper usage;
  • Using digital proofing and electronic file delivery to minimize paper waste and speed the production process.
3. Ink Issues
There are two eco-centric factors involved when considering ink options: the effect on the printing process and recyclability of the finished printed piece. Areas of concern here include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), non-renewable resources, and heavy metals used in pigments.

Petroleum- Versus Vegetable-Based Inks | More and more printers are reducing their use of VOCs and offering their customers environmentally preferred alternatives to petroleum inks.

Petroleum-based inks contain ozone-depleting distillates and VOCs—heat-set web offset inks emit the most. But, while many of these pollutants can be eliminated using catalytic converters, petroleum is not a renewable material.

Vegetable oil-based inks, or “agri-based” inks, offer an attractive alternative to those that are petroleum-based. These biodegradable, low-VOC inks are well suited for use on uncoated paper and are made with renewable resources such as soy, linseed, cottonseed, tung, or china wood oil. The percentage of soy or vegetable oil may vary from 20%-100% within the ink formulation, with any remaining percentages being petroleum. Printers usually will offer a range of percentages and options.

The key point to remember is that although agri-based inks may contain some petroleum, they do not have the VOC levels of solvent-based ink formulations, which can be as high as 40%. In order to save money and environmental resources, designers may consider using fewer inks, or using spot colors for innovative designs with punch. Also, metallic and fluorescent inks should be used sparingly when possible due to their environmental toxicity.

In addition, the use of fewer full-page ink floods also reduces the amount of processing that is required when recycling recovered paper. Finally, downsizing paper sheet size when using ink bleeds can reduce trim waste significantly as well as lower the expense of upgrading to oversized sheet sizes that typically are used for bleeds.

4. Printing Measures
Printers are continuing to move away from the use of solvent-based products in the print production process. Many do their part for the environment by using alcohol-free substitutes that use glycol during the platemaking process, soy- and vegetable-based inks when printing (save that of heatset web offset), low-VOC and water-miscible solvents for blanket washes, computer-to-plate (CTP) or direct imaging (DI) technologies, digital printing for small runs, and EPA-licensed chemical waste disposal.

Other environmentally minded measures include the following options:

  • Waterless printing—fountain solution elimination; reduced paper and energy waste; high print quality with low dot gain, better color saturation, faster makereadies;
  • Aqueous-based varnish—economical, fewer VOCs, no clean-up solvents, recyclable, repulpable (tip: use spot varnish only on heavily inked areas versus a flood coating of varnish);
  • 100% solids ultraviolet inks and coatings—contain little or no solvents or VOCs, increase a project’s ability to be recycled, repulped, and de-inked.
5. Finishing Options
Many finishing techniques exist that can add unique and dramatic elements to a printed piece or package.

Embossing and die-cutting are two environmentally friendly ways to add depth and dimension to a piece without the use of chemicals or inks. Embossing can be one-level, multi-level, registered with inks, and/or sculpted, which is especially beautiful on secondary packaging to add texture and shelf appeal.

Die-cut windows in secondary packaging can add a level of interactivity and maximize the impact of primary packaging. Also, both embossing and die-cutting dies can be reused, thereby maximizing investments.

Engraving is an elegant, old-world printing technique. It has minimal impact on the environment, as most engraving inks are either water- or vegetable-based.

Putting even a few of these tips into practice not only will help your business help the environment but will serve to keep your employees thinking innovatively when designing products.

Top Tips Checklist

Paper Considerations

  • 100% PCW, uncoated paperboard
  • Process chlorine-free or elemental chlorine-free paper
  • For virgin paper, use FSC- or SFI-certified stock
  • Use fewest materials necessary to be effective
  • Use PDF/digital proofs
  • If package isn’t reusable, make sure it’s recyclable
Ink Considerations
  • Vegetable-based inks
  • Less ink coverage
  • Avoid metallic and fluorescent inks when possible
Printing Options
  • Aqueous-based coatings
  • CTP or DI technologies
  • Digital printing for small runs
Finishing Options
  • Embossing
  • Die-cutting
  • Water-based glues

About the Forest Stewardship Council
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organization founded in 1993 to support environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests. It is comprised of an alliance of environmental and social groups, forestry professionals, and indigenous peoples’ organizations from around the world.

To date, the strict standards of the FSC have been applied to forestlands in more than 60 countries throughout the world. Contact the FSC for further information: fscus.org (US); fscoax.org (Intl.).

The FSC logo identifies products which contain wood from well-managed forests certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council.

©1996 Forest Stewardship Council A.C.

Monadnock Paper Mills | mpm.com | PFFC-ASAP 304

Dave Lunati has been driving marketing initiatives for Monadnock Paper Mills for more than five years. He has 12+ years of experience working in paper manufacturing and technology for a wide range of industries. Dave hails from Boston, MA, and is a graduate of Harvard College. Contact him at 603-588-8644; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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