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Green Printing and Plastic: No Longer Strange Bedfellows

November 2008 By Jean-Marie Hershey
AS A society, we rely on plastic for its strength, resilience, flexibility, elasticity, durability and protective properties, characteristics that have not escaped the notice of print buyers and specifiers everywhere. As a result, many printers increasingly view printing on plastics as a way to differentiate themselves, while turning out products of higher value demanded by their customers—value they hope can be reflected in premium prices and higher profit margins. 

However, it is the very durability and longevity of traditional plastic—many of which also contain chemical color-ants and performance enhancers—that print consumers find increasingly troublesome. In addition to requiring it to perform to specification, they also expect plastic to be easily disposable, to leave no lasting environmental footprint, produce no harmful emissions during processing, and to minimize the use of non-renewable resources like petroleum and fossil fuels in its manufacture and processing. In short, while we praise plastic for presenting opportunities for innovation, we also recognize it as an “unnatural resource” with lingering negative environmental effects. 

Can printers have it both ways? Can they deliver the functional, creative plastic solutions their customers demand, while also showing themselves to be responsive, environmentally responsible suppliers? Happily for print providers, the answer is yes and yes, thanks to technological advances in the manufacture of recyclable and biodegradable plastic substrates, growth in UV printing and waste-free processing of traditional printable plastics.

Oh Say Can UV?

Energy consumption and plant emissions are high priorities for printers whose customers prefer suppliers with sustainable business practices. At the same time, growing demand for UV printed products is fueling a keen interest throughout the graphic arts community in learning how to handle plastic, foils and substrates containing a high percentage of post-consumer waste. While plastic offers printers a huge opportunity to innovate and differentiate, energy-curable technology provides certain processing advantages (instantaneous drying) with distinct environmental benefits (VOC-free production). It’s a marriage made in UV heaven. 

Thanks to the growing popularity of eco-friendly sheetfed presses and the performance of UV inks and coatings on non-absorptive substrates like plastic, offset printers can participate more fully and profitably in markets previously hampered by the inability of offset inks to penetrate the plastic substrate, e.g., POP and display; credit, membership and gift cards; packaging graphics and labels; security and brand protection; etc. On the digital side, UV-curable wide-format ink-jet technologies are exploding in popularity, while digital roll-to-roll, digital cut-sheet and digital offset presses offered by KBA, Kodak, Presstek, Ryobi and Screen, among others, now feature UV options. 

 

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