Where green becomes grey
Are we using greener materials or is cost preventing us? Sophie Matthews-Paul considers the views of manufacturers and suppliers of roll-fed substrates.
The types of material used by roll-fed printers come in the broadest range of options imaginable, including coated and non-coated products, and those that are designed more specifically to cater for different ink formulations. In wide-format terms, one generally considers the narrowest width to be around 610mm, with 5m representing the other end of the scale. And, in between these two points is a myriad of different widths and weights manufactured and treated to varying criteria including coatings, price and environmental properties.
As is typical in the current climate, the two most topical areas for discussion are cost and environmental issues, representing a dichotomy for the majority of print service providers. Most businesses across every industry are constantly under pressure to bring in greener practices and working incentives, but the weight of competitive pricing is a heavy one and has resulted in many companies being forced to dispel their intended eco-friendly initiatives in order to remain competitive and retain a sufficient margin to stay alive.
Melanie Enser, marketing manager at Colourgen, is pragmatic about the whole issue of moving towards greener materials. She feels that requests for FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) or biodegradable products have faded during the past year and she believes that, realistically, this is as a direct result of users needing keen prices along with consistent print quality. "At Colourgen, we're taking a slightly different stance for the time being - by reducing the amount of materials used in a job," she explains. "For example, pop-ups and roll-ups have always used a lot of media but we are looking for more products, like the Essential Solvent Printable Crystal Stoplight which offers a one-part process rather than a two- or three-part process, for such items."
Materials suppliers are at the forefront of those leading the way with greener properties and subsequent recycling schemes but there's confusion over products which are suitable and how best to achieve eco targets. It is generally accepted that PVCs are bad news for the environmentalists but is this something of a red herring? The European PVC industry audited results show that 194,950 tonnes of the product were recycled in 2008, demonstrating a year-on-year 30% increase on the levels for post-consumer recycling. There's a wealth of fascinating facts and figures to be found at www.vinyl2010.org, plus a few surprises relating to sustainability, along with a timely reminder that PVC resins, plasticisers and stabilisers combine to play a major role in our everyday lives through a variety of products.
Nonetheless, the quest to bring greener availability into the display industry is linked to a move away from PVC-based materials. Madico Graphic Films, for example, last year introduced its aptly-named Mother Green range of environmentally-friendly non-PVC ink-jet printable films for indoor and outdoor applications. The company believes that, for exterior jobs in particular, these materials offer a strong range of environmentally-friendly substrates for most promotional graphics requirements. These films have been engineered to match the performance and functional benefits typically offered by PVC substrates, with the benefit of matched component overlaminates for applications requiring extra protection and functionality.
Andy Voss, managing director of Madico Graphic Films, states: "More than ever before, printers are required to conform to international legislation governing the use of hazardous substrates and their component materials. However, meeting such prerequisites is often not enough as printers' own customers continue to drive demand for environmentally-friendly, non-PVC alternatives for their large-format promotional projects."
From a print service provider's perspective, there's strong agreement that price and eco awareness are not necessarily happy bed-fellows. Managing director of London-based retail specialist McKenzie Clark, Graham Clark, comments: "We are introducing a range of sustainable materials which are available for use in all aspects of our work, and are working with customers to assist in their understanding of the source, manufacturing and disposal requirements of display materials."
But Clark is all too aware of the effects of the current economic climate. "The recession has possibly slowed the uptake of eco-friendly production as the media often carries a higher price. However, we were recently asked to produce the display at the World Retail Congress, which was designed to set a new benchmark in the presentation of such events, using recycled and recyclable materials and the lowest possible carbon footprint. The resultant display printed on our Durst Rho 800 underwent a Carbon Smart Audit to establish its very low carbon footprint and measure the benefits of recycling." Clark concludes: "We have also been awarded 14001 accreditation and the company has set an objective to provide quotations for work to all our customers by 2010 which will automatically include an eco-friendly alternative."
Where print machines are encouraging environmental attributes, it makes sense that associated materials follow suit and this is one element apparent in HP's Designjet L65500. This is geared towards greener use through its latex ink technology which complies with certifications, such as Nordic Swan. As a result, the company's offerings include recyclable media as well as HDPEs and Tyvek, which HP feels don't always print very well on solvent-based machines. But because cost is a factor, HP hasn't forgotten that users will want to use low-cost uncoated materials as well as those with greener credentials.
In an ideal world, you use the most environmentally beneficial materials and processes without incurring any additional expense. But you also need a clear idea of exactly what can be recycled in terms of media and ink combinations - for example, a green substrate's properties can be negated completely when laminated. Certification schemes become pretty meaningless if the results can't carry through environmental consistency and, unlike most papers, display materials can often be of complex composition with additional surface treatments.
There's no doubt that eco-friendly issues are here to stay and likely to increase in their dominance, particularly if cost factors can become more competitive. In the meantime, many green issues remain as grey areas in an industry driven by tight margins. It's up to manufacturers and the supply channel to educate end users.