With the growing trends toward sustainable or eco-friendly products from major national customers, print-service-providers have been faced with a difficult challenge: unearthing the truth to many of the claims of “biodegradable”, “recyclable”, and “eco-friendly” media products.
Staying in business today is not easy and “going green” can be even harder. Is it worth the time and investment? Two sustainable experts weigh in on some of the most pressing sustainability questions facing the wide- and grand-format industry.
Recyclable? Biodegradable? What’s the difference? Is one more important?
Which should you look for?
Mike Horsten, CEO, Zemt Green & Sustainable Consultants: The question is not what is better but what is the final use of the materials. Most products in the world are recyclable but at what cost and is it economically feasible. The recycling could cost more to the environment (energy consumption and CO2 emissions), than the benefit of having it recycled. On the other hand if it’s biodegradable, you are making a great excuse to still use landfills and get rid of the waste easily. Remember some products are biodegradable, but it takes hundreds of years and they can produce all kind of gasses or leak heavy metals into the soil. Some are even contra productive in the reduction of CO2 emissions.
I would always take a close look at the possibilities of the recycling option as long as it really benefits the general picture. In our industry there are very few biodegradable products—think of PVC (Bysonil) and all the hard core products (Forex/Gatorboard) used in flatbed printing. Most of these can be reused in the production of new products or as insulation for houses, so there is a recycle option.
Make sure when in doubt that you look at the composition of the original material, check how it’s made and ask your vendor. If there is any chance of recycling then go for that option, it’s always better then landfills. Just a note: Recycled paper requires 64 percent less energy than making paper from virgin wood pulp, so that is an advantage to count in.
Marcia Y. Kinter, vice president - Government & Business Information, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA): There is a huge difference between biodegradable and recyclable. To make a recyclable claim, the product must be diverted from the solid waste stream. And, most importantly, the product must be accepted by a recycling program that is available in a substantial majority of communities. Claims of degradability, biodegradability or photodegradability should be qualified to the extent necessary to avoid consumer deception about: (1) the product or package’s ability to degrade in the environment where it is customarily disposed; and (2) the rate and extent of degradation. There is a specific test method that is associated with biodegradability.
Who regulates and approves processes/claims regarding eco-friendly, recyclable, biodegradable products? Does one claim “matter” more or hold more weight than another?
Horsten: This is the real catch 21, there are many organizations that are approving all kind of claims that their product is recyclable or biodegradable, but what is the benefit to the general cause? The economic marketing of green products is something that worries me. The information given is seldom complete and most vendors are not willing to share their trade secrets. Again, most reputable companies are working on getting the standards right and are investing lots of R&D to make their products greener. I really hope that we get into the green mode and look at using the right product for the right job instead of offering products that are available and therefore they must be green.
It’s like UV curable inks they—are not the healthiest products—the monomers in the inks need the UV light to be cured, but most people don’t know that monomers are harmful to the human species. The curing makes the monomers into polymers and these are safe, but the monomers are only cured for 90 percent and the rest of the curing takes time between seven and 14 days, and as long as they are not cured they are harmful.