Wed, Jul

Print sector steps-up pressure regarding ink additive reclassification

The Graphic, Paper and Media Association (GPMA) has met to discuss the way forward in relation to the reclassification of chemicals gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4-butanediol (BDO) which are widely used in the production of printing inks, including solvent-based inkjet formulations.

The move by the umbrella related associations forum comes as various individual industry bodies, including the IPIA, BPIF, Picon, and British Coatings Federation (BCF) step-up attempts to mitigate possible impacts of the new legislation on the print community.

Letters have been sent to key Government figures - specifically Kit Malthouse, Minister of State in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and Lee Rowley, Under Secretary of State in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy - asking for a review of the timing and scope of the new restrictions on the chemicals in question. Print and coatings industry bodies are now awaiting a meeting with the Home Office and BEIS chemicals team in the next few weeks to chart a path forward.

Tom Bowtell, CEO of the BCF explained: “On 15 December 2021, a legislative proposal was laid before Parliament to strengthen controls on GBL and BDO with the intention to reduce misuse of these substances. These controls include a strict licensing regime for legitimate industrial uses. Whilst we support the aim of the proposal, we have concerns about the approach and timing of these changes.

“As the legislation currently stands, licenses will be required for import, export, production, supply and possession of GBL and BDO. Our understanding is that this will mean that not only will companies manufacturing products containing GBL/ BDO require a license, but so would their customers, i.e. users of mixtures (e.g. printing inks or coatings) that contain GBL/ BDO. The burden this creates for users of mixtures such as printing inks should not be underestimated. For example, DBS checks for several members of staff would be required before a license could be applied for, and a separate and secure storage facility may be needed. We believe that the Home Office significantly underestimated the number of businesses that would be affected by these changes, when mixtures containing GBL are included.

“We have written to the Home Office Minister responsible to make clear our concerns and with suggestions as to how the goal of the regulations can still be achieved without having such undue effects on legitimate business. To that end, we have also had meetings and conversations with officials at both the Home Office and BEIS discussing potential options to help reduce the impact on the printing sector. In particular, we have requested an extension to the June 2022 deadline for obtaining a licence for use of GBL as a substance, as even if the licence regime is limited to companies handling neat GBL, we still believe the timelines are very challenging to obtain a licence in time. 

“In addition, we are aware that several printing ink companies would prefer to reformulate away from GBL, but there is insufficient time to do this before the June deadline.

“We have also called for users of mixtures (i.e. printers using printing inks) to be out of scope from the requirement to obtain a licence, given they do not buy or handle neat GBL. Once in a printing ink, the risk of misuse of GBL is unlikely given it would be extremely difficult to extract. 

“We welcome further opportunities for industry associations to continue to apply pressure on government to make changes to the proposed regulation to make it more proportionate, whilst still ensuring sufficient controls are in place at the most vulnerable points in the supply chain.”

Bettine Pellant, CEO of Picon, added: “We have been contacted by several of our members regarding the change in status for GBL and BDO. This is a time for trade organisations to co-operate in a quest to ensure any change in legislation is done with least effect on industry. We hope that the concerns we raise and the consultation we suggest will be well received by the Government and that the scope of implementation and/or the timescale is changed. 

“As the trade organisation representing graphic arts suppliers in the UK, Picon understands that action is needed against the misuse of these substances but invites the Minister to review the wider impact on industry if these chemicals are restricted. It believes the business impact has been grossly underestimated.”

The ban is set to come into force on 15 June. Manufacturers need staff to be DBS checked ahead of applying for a drug licence to allow them to continue to use these products. Although alternative solvents could be trialled (and hopefully validated), it is a technical challenge and a time-consuming process unlikely to be completed in just five months. 

Picon also suggests that as this legislation is only applicable in the UK, it will put this country at a disadvantage against European counterparts. It urges the Government to delay the implementation of the legislation to allow time for a full consultation or at least to allow companies time to exhaust stocks, to obtain a licence and to initiate trials into the use of alternative chemicals. It also suggests a technical evaluation to see if illicit users could extract usable substances from product mixtures. It suggests a threshold exemption might be put in place for GBL and BDO, below which a licence is not required.

Pellant added: “It is right to legislate against harm from the availability of these substances and their misuse but we must find a fair and sensible way to do so without being detrimental to the printing industry and other sectors.”

IPIA general manager Brendan Perring, who with representatives from the ink manufacturing sector met with the BEIS last Friday (18 February), said: “We are not challenging the legislation, and support it completely in the protection of the public, we are only seeking to draw attention to its disproportionate and unforeseen impact on our sector.

“We are seeking to highlight to Government that - following our industry being damaged by Covid through its significant exposure to hospitality, retail, leisure - we are now experiencing a period of fragile recovery. As such the financial and supply chain disruption this would cause would be disproportionate to the risk presented from GBL in ink.

“The damage would be caused primarily because an (updated) estimate from our manufacturers puts the figure at closer to 4,000 businesses now that use inks containing GBL to produce their day to day living through print production. The value of this print production on an annual basis is estimated at £1bn. These figures grow daily as the extent of its usage extends beyond our immediate industry. 

“Due to the nature of a large number of these companies being SMEs, they are not in a position to be able to invest in alternative printing equipment that does not use GBL ink - or alternatively afford the current licencing costs, provision of secure storage, DBS checks and secure waste disposal arrangements that would be required. Certainly, within the time frame of 15 June, most would not be able to meet the licensing requirements for practical considerations.

“We are also seeking to highlight the point that the affected ink does not pose a viable conduit for drug manufacture, as it would be uneconomic and impractical for it to be distilled into narcotics. This is because the average cost of 50l of cleaning fluid that contains GBL - and is primarily being used in illegal drug manufacture - costs around £250-£500 on average depending on the purity. For the same quantity of ink it would cost £5,000 to purchase it. 

“We are requesting that the print industry be provided an exemption from the licensing requirements on GBL - while further consultation takes place and until such time as a proportionate scheme could be put in place that would be viable for both the supply chain and these 4,000 businesses to adhere to while also protecting the public.

“A suggestion from the IPIA/BAPC on this count, following consultation with members (but for further discussion with other trade associations, sector manufacturers and Government), would be a time-limited exemption for manufacturers and suppliers, and the move to a potential registration scheme for end-users. 

“In this solution, ink suppliers and manufacturers need to register their customers that use the affected inks (taking the onus off the end-user), and the time limited exemption would then see the manufacturers and suppliers have adequate time so they could fully meet the licensing and registration scheme requirements - while the volume of their applications could be prepared for, and accommodated by the licencing agency in a timely manner.”

Epson has been one of the first printing ink suppliers to publicly comment on the situation. It said recently: “Epson is deeply concerned about the impact these measures could have not only to its own business, but on its customers and indeed the UK print signage industry as a whole. While we understand and support the Government’s desire to prevent the misuse of a potentially harmful substance, we believe it would be extremely difficult for GBL to be extracted from our ink due to its chemical formulation. We are convinced that the number of businesses and range of products likely to be impacted is far greater than the Government’s initial studies anticipate. We would welcome the opportunity to review with the Government a methodology to introduce licencing that would allow legitimate businesses to continue unimpeded, whilst minimising the potential risk of misuse.

“We are working closely with major industry associations to highlight the disruption these measures will bring to businesses.”


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