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What are printer manufacturers doing to present the wide-format inkjet market with environmentally responsible technologies and working structures?
We all have environmental responsibilities, and as legistlation and customer demand places increasingly more weight on our shoulders the whole ‘green’ issue will need to be dealt with ever more effectively and transparently. Being able to provide print on biodegradable materials and recycling waste are just a starting points – what about the environmental impact of how your printers are manufactured, their energy consumption etc. As part of a manufacturing loop you are going to need to understand more about your suppliers’ green ethos and how that affects your own business. The kit manufacturers, understanding the need to green-up their own practices for their own sake, also recognise the need to implement envionmental strategies that deliver products and services that have benefits right the way down the line.

Take Epson, a company serious enough about its environmental responsibilities to set out, in its ‘Environmental Vision 2050’ strategy, a goal of a 90% reduction in its CO2 emissions by 2050. “We spent €52m on environmental conservation last year with an additional €25m in environmental R&D, of which 73.6% was specifically earmarked for the development of eco-considerate products,” says Eelco Smit, environmental affairs manager, Epson Europe.
“We develop products based on energy saving design, resource saving and elimination of harmful substances. A large proportion of a printer’s total environmental impact is caused by the energy consumed in the use phase. So we set energy-reduction goals for each product and you will see Energy Saving Recommended (ESR) labels on Epson inkjet printers.”

The use of potentially harmful substances used during manufacturing, including those in the product itself and those contained in consumables such as inks and media, are a key focus area of Epson’s product development. By designing and using alternatives, the company continues to show the way in quality and performance whilst reducing the overall impact on the environment.

 Epson is also active in making ink as environmentally friendly as possible – its Collect&Recycle initiative has been running in Europe since February 2006. It operates a free box collection service across Europe (and South Africa) for empty cartridges from most of its printer range. Customers from larger companies who tend to use cartridges relatively quickly can register to request a collection box. This is delivered within five working days, and when full, the customer requests a pick-up and a replacement collection box if required.

Integral to the quality and durability of print output of the Stylus Pro GS6000 printer is Epson’s UltraChrome GS, an eight-colour eco-solvent type inkset available in 950ml cartridges. UltraChrome GS ink doesn’t spread VOCs and thus was the first major eco-solvent type ink that did not need to carry a hazard symbol. The GS6000 was the company’s first LFP to be supplied with a recycling box for its spent ink cartridges. Customers using other Epson LFP models are now also able to order recycling boxes.100% of the cartridges collected through the scheme are recycled.  
Substrates have also come under Epson’s environmental scrutiny and it is growing the range of biodegradable substrates it offers. BioMedia was launched this year and is compatible with all Epson Stylus Pro aqueous and eco-solvent wide-format inkjet printers. The material incorporates a micro-organism which, in dark and moist conditions, cuts through the polymer chain, accelerating the breakdown of the product so that it biodegrades within two to five years.

 At Durst environmental considerations are plainly in sight at its stunning R&D facility in Lienz, specially built with energy conservation in mind. It says that from the outset it has only been concerned with environmentally friendly printing processes which is why it has followed the UV curing ink route. Its Rho UV curing inks contain no VOCs and strictly conform to the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive 2002/96/EC and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive 2002/96/EC. Rho inks have been tested and also meet Toy Standard EN71 Part 3. Furthermore, Durst Rho Roll inks were the first to have been awarded the Nordic Swan environmental standard. The company looked at the whole aspect of recyclability of its inks and independent tests carried out by the Institute for Paper Science and Technology in Darmstadt, Germany, certified that Rho inks printed onto corrugated board are ‘recyclable’ according to PTS-RH:21/97.

As for Durst printers, all Rho machines are designed for low energy consumption. Caring for the environment also includes the materials used in constructing the printer, e.g. the total energy consumption and, in particular, that used by the UV lamps, the quantity of ink required for flushing or purging in order to maintain the print heads, and the recyclability of the printed inks and substrate.

The latest machine in the Rho range, the Rhotex 320 textile printer, uses water-based dispersed dye inks which are environmentally friendly, recyclable and disposable.  As you might expect of a company with the profile of HP, it is forever developing its environmental strategy and is eager to be seen as leading the greening of sign and display printing through efficient digital on-demand printing solutions, recyclable media and take-back  programmes and supporting industry certification schemes. HP’s latex inks and their environmental benefits have been well chronicled, but to recap, this water-based technology (as used in the HP Scitex LX600 and LX800 and the HP Designjet L25500 printers) is seen as offering performance comparable to eco-solvent and low-solvent ink but does not require hazard warning labels or special ventilation equipment – plus, the inks are odour free.

The HP Scitex FB6700 printer also uses water-based inks and, according to HP a recent independent study, indicated that printing with the HP Scitex FB7500 had a lower carbon footprint than with an equivalent screen printer for 90% of signage print jobs.  HP says it considers all of the equipment and the process steps required to produce a print as well as the contribution that its solutions can make to reducing waste and costs. As an example it highlights the HP Designjet L25500 latex-ink based printer and the HP Designjet Z6100 printer series using water-based HP Vivera pigment inks, pointing out that they are Energy Star certified, which means that they meet strict energy efficiency guidelines. HP also notes that as UV-curable ink-based flatbed and hybrid printers can print directly onto rigid media, the resulting elimination of mixed media creating less non-recyclable print.

On the media front, HP has a range of recyclable media compatible with printers using its latex and UV-curable inks. All of these are alternatives to PVC-based media, such as the HDPE Reinforced Banner that is 100% recyclable. The company also has a large-format media take-back programme for the free return and recycling of HP recyclable materials.
 HP says it is continually striving to improve the recyclability of its sign and display printing supplies. It is already possible to return printing supplies for the HP Designjet L25500 printer including HP 789 ink cartridges, printheads and printhead cleaning container. These supplies are part of the HP Planet Partners programme offered in around 50 countries worldwide. And, when it’s time to upgrade or dispose of your HP Scitex or HP Designjet printer, the manufacturer offers several environmentally aware options.
HP believes in approvals/certifications as proof of environmental performance. For example, eight HP Scitex and HP Designjet branded inks meet the requirements of the Nordic Ecolabel (Nordic Swan) for printing companies. As a company, Agfa Graphics often doesn't shout so loudly about the environmental aspects of what it does but its wide-format inkjet focus has always been the UV curable process, mainly, says marcoms manager Tim Light, for the fact that, in the future, environmental considerations will play a huge role.

 UV inks need UV light for curing and these types of lamps are inherently energy consuming so, in the new Anapurna 2500 LED industrial wide-format printer launched at Fespa 2010, Agfa Graphics introduced an LED drying system. This has the advantages of drastically reducing the energy used in drying while at the same time reducing the ozone released in the process.

 To reduce the amount of ink consumed in producing printed matter, Agfa uses special head and ink technologies tuned so the ink layer laid down is much thinner. At the same time, says the company, software tools are also able to reduce ink weights while still maintaining the optimum colour performance and gamut.  Mentioning Fespa 2010 and the environmental aspects of the kit launched there, it makes sense also to reference the Elements range of ‘green’ printers introduced by IGS. These use new Elements H2O water-based inks have been developed to be resistant to weather, UV light and abrasion and capable of being jetted onto surfaces formerly deemed unsuitable for inkjet production, yet are eco-friendly formulations. They can be matched with Krypton Eco-Media materials, produced according to FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification.

IGS was also the brain behind the Colorgreen incentive which encourages users of solvent-based wide-format printers to dispose of their used cartridges. By using the company’s free recycling service, businesses are not only helping to reduce landfill but are also complying with legislation being brought into force by the Health and Safety Executive. 

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