Fact or Fiction: Green Printing According to Mercer Color
Editor’s note: The following perspective was submitted as a Comment in response to the “Going Green Drives Sales” article that was published in the March, 2007 edition of Printing Impressions. The material was too long to be displayed as an Online Comment, so it is being posted in its entirety here.
By Pat Berger, vice president and co-owner
In recent years, there’s been quite a bit of hype about green printing and with that hype comes many questions. What exactly is green printing? Could it be done at my printing facility? Does planting trees, using wind and alternative power sources, recycled paper and product labels with butterflies qualify us as a green printer? Doesn’t FSC and ISO certification mean we’re a green printing facility?
While most of these are good environmental practices that contribute to an overall encompassing green program, they do not have any effect on the actual printing process. Here at Mercer Color, we define green printing as a manufacturing process using products and procedures that greatly reduce or eliminate HAPS (Hazardous Air Pollutants), 313s (Federal SARA List of community right to know substances), VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) [as defined by test method 24], and California proposition 65 chemicals (chemicals known to produce reproductive harm or carcinogens). Additionally, we require MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) to list the above and all individual State data.
Mercer Color has chosen to pursue a manufacturing process utilizing chemicals complying with the above with few of the superficals and some of our own in-house policies. This process consists of four-product groups: ink, fountain solution, wash-up cleaning agents, and paper/paper-board.
We started our green endeavor in 1990 with the use of seed oil or vegetable oil based Hi Solids inks. This is a continuous improvement process and today we are pleased to report it has reached its full potential allowing us to print 300 lpi and higher or stochastic without any more effort than running 110 lpi.
In our opinion, Hi Solids ink should have no more than 5% or less VOCs using the method 24 test procedure. We have been running alcohol free since 1990 and eliminated the use of alcohol subs and all ethylene glycols from our Ohio facility. This was an adjustment in press procedures because of the lack of compatible inks available at that time. We had to learn about inks and how to alter them correctly to work with a solvent free single step fountain solution.
Most sheetfed offset inks are based on a solvent system and are made to run with a solventized two-step fountain solution. The solvent in the fountain solution helps to replace and maintain the solvency of the ink, keeping it from drying up. When you have inks that contain 5% or more solvent oils and eliminate the solvency of the fountain solution, the inks will tend to semi polymerize (dry up) and then you will get picking, piling, back trap mottle, slow drying on the substrate, chalking, and meter roller feed back, and just about all the anomalies associated with wet litho.
Once our ink problems were solved, our last hurdle was press wash. We tried too many to count. Each promising to offer a solution to our problem. Finally, in 2001 there was a breakthrough with a seed/bean-ester wash. It worked very well but still had over four pounds per U.S. gallon of VOC’s.
In January 2005, we were thrilled to learn about a new low VOC wash that could be used throughout the entire pressroom. It contains .29 lbs. per U.S. gallon and it’s the only wash Mercer Color has been using for the past 18 months. We use it on blankets, ink train rollers, impression cylinders, transfer cylinders, dampening system rollers and general ink knife-bench clean-ups.
What has Mercer Color gained? First of all, lots of experience in how the litho process really works as a total manufacturing process and how each variable can be controlled without machine add-ons such as solvent distillers, fountain solution recycling systems, on-press coating units, extra chill and hot air bars, and expensive RO water systems.
In addition, we’ve learned there are alternatives to hazardous pressroom chemistry and, despite many critics’ claims, these products really do work and in some cases they work better. Since making the switch to eco-responsible products in 1990, our ink consumption has decreased by 25%. We have only dumped the fountain solution in our circulating system three times since January 2003. We have gone from using three 55 gal. drums of wash per year to a single 30 gal. drum. We do not aqueous coat, almost all jobs can be worked and turned in 15 minutes or less and over 20% of our work is printed, folded, cut and shipped the same day (with a standard screen ruling of 300 lpi).
Mercer Color is now at less than 40 grams/liter of VOCs on our wash and our fountain solution is 2/10ths of a pound per U.S. gallon in the concentrate. Our shop is virtually odor free and our inks are at 4% or less VOCs. With ink being 95% exempt on VOCs it is possible to be at 25 lbs. or less VOCs for every $1,000,000 in sales. At the present, the maximum VOCs allowed is 3 tons or 6,000 lbs. per year. It will take us about 40 years to reach 1 ton and 120 years to reach 3 tons.
To us, being green is an ordinary everyday manufacturing procedure refined through years of research, development and observation—and, of course, the ability to change and adapt. Together, we could make an even greater impact on the environment and insure the survival of our industry.