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An important role in the trend toward sustainable production methods is played by the carbon footprint (CF) calculation, which quantifies the total amount of greenhouse gases released by a product or system, expressed in kilogram CO2 equivalents.
VITO, an independent Flemish institute for technological research, was commissioned by Agfa with a comprehensive study on the environmental impact of Computer-to-Plate (CtP) systems. A first part of the study involves a CF analysis of Agfa's most recent CtP systems. Although it is difficult to compare quantitative CF figures published by different suppliers, the conclusions of this CF analysis can be generalized since the Agfa CtP assortment represents a mix of plate imaging technologies used by other manufacturers as well.
The results of the VITO study show that the production of lithographic aluminum is responsible fort at least 80% of the carbon footprint. The processes that take place at the plate manufacturer's site (Agfa) and the pre-press activities in the printing plant account for the remaining 20%. Due to this important contribution of the lithographic aluminum production, which is the same for all plates, the CF difference between the various plates under investigation is rather small but still significant. It appears that the most advanced CtP systems, offering the highest degree of convenience and cost savings for the user, also have the lowest CF contribution at the printing plant, which confirms a convergence between ecological and economic benefits as equally observed in other industry sectors.
When end of life recycling of the aluminum is accounted for, the high grade of the scrap from printing plants - along with its short-term availability - provides a substantial CF credit so that climate impact of the most advanced CtP systems is only as low as 3.1 – 3.3 kg CO2 equivalents per square meter of a (gauge 275μ) plate.
However, the CF of pre-press in general, and computer-to-plate systems in particular, is only one element of the total environmental footprint of the printing industry quantified by means of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Furthermore, focusing on just CF disregards the importance of other impact categories and might lead to making the wrong choices when defining an improvement track. The underlying study is only part of a total evaluation of the total environmental impact, however serves as a valuable and credible beginning. A similar report on LCA of CtP systems is pending.