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Sustainable Printing: What is it?

Why Choose Sustainable Printing?

It's easy to choose environmentally friendly printing options once you know the basics. Sometimes it's as simple as picking one paper product over another or one ink product over another. If all consumers made a conscious decision to purchase sustainable products, imagine the impact. Look below to find out more about how you can make sustainable printing choices.


Environmental Impact

Recycling Statistics

Local Organizations Who Have Taken the Initiative

How Much of an Impact Can You Make?

Local organizations who have taken the initiative

Eco-Friendly Options

Recycled Paper

Recycled paper process

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification

Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) certification

Rainforest Alliance Logo

Abundant Forest Alliance

Sustainable Inks 101

Why Use Soy-based Inks

Vegetable-based Ink

Soy Sealed Inks

Ink Ingredients

Types of Vegetable-Based Oils Used for Printing

Choosing Sustainable Inks

Choosing Recycled Paper: Recycled Paper Purchasing 101

Paper Bleaching

Price Comparison


Purchasing Sustainable Ink

Bulk Printing: Organizational Printing Needs

What Can You Do as an Organization?

Recycled Toner Cartridges

Professional Printing


Environmental Impact

When thinking about recycling, you may not think about what an impact printing has on the environment. Using sustainable printing methods such as purchasing recycled paper helps to ensure that our natural resources are being used wisely.

Paper products made from recycled content, often referred to as post-consumer waste, are created from used products that are broken down to form new ingredients, which can then be used to create another product. This process makes new products without cutting down trees while creating less waste and dramatically reducing the amount of waste in our landfills.

Inks using soy or vegetable oils reduce the amount of toxins that are released into the air during the printing process, preventing additional air pollution. Choosing sustainable printing items and products using recycled content will help in the conservation of our resources.

Recycling StatisticsRecycled Symbol

"For every ton of 100% post consumer fiber used, 3.5 tons of trees are saved." (Environmental Paper Selector, 2007)

"Using 100% post-consumer waste to produce 1 ton of paper saves approximately 1.5 tons of paper from our landfills." (Environmental Paper Selector, 2007)

Recycled paper benefits the environment in many ways...

Some try to argue that recycling paper uses more energy, making it less sustainable than virgin paper. The Environmental Defense and the Alliance for Environmental Innovation proved that there are environmental benefits to using recycled paper. On average:

  • 27% less energy is consumed
  • 47% fewer greenhouse gases are emitted
  • 33% less paper is wasted
  • 54% less solid waste is created                                                                                                                                  

           (A Field Guide, 2007, p.5)

How Much of an Impact Can You Make?

According to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Health Statistics, in 1998 there were 456,414 residents in Lancaster County. (Bureau of Health Statistics, 2000)

If each resident of Lancaster County used one pound of uncoated paper made from virgin fibers in one year, the results would be as follows:

  • 5, 477 trees would be cut down for paper supply
  • The amount of energy burned would be enough to provide heat and electricity in 96 homes for one year
  • The greenhouse gases would be comparable to driving around 118 cars for a year
  • Enough wastewater would be created from paper mills to fill seven swimming pools
  • The pulp-making process would fill 19 garbage trucks worth of solid waste

If each person consumed the same amount of paper, but decided to purchase paper made from 30% post-consumer waste, the results would be as follows:

  • 3,834 trees would be cut down for paper supply
  • The amount of energy burned would be enough to provide heat and electricity in 96 homes for one year
  • The greenhouse gases would be comparable to driving around 105 cars for a year
  • Enough wastewater would be created from paper mills to fill six swimming pools
  • The pulp-making process would fill 16 garbage trucks worth of solid waste

When it comes to choosing sustainable products, even simple changes can make a positive impact on the environment. According to GreenLine Paper Company, approximately 60% of paper in the United States is not recycled (2008). Go green. Switch to recycled products.

To calculate how much of an impact you can make on the environment by changing your paper choices visit: http://www.papercalculator.or . Environmental impact estimates were made using the Environmental Defense Fund Paper Calculator.

Local Organizations Who Have Taken the Initiative

The Lancaster New Era

  • Prints on 100% recycled paper using soy-based inks

Millersville University Printing

          Millersville's Communications and Marketing Department

  • Prints on FSC certified paper
  • Most of the purchased paper is approximately 30% post-consumer content               
                           (W. Sheaffer, personal communication, April 15, 2008)


        Boyer Print Shop

  • Produces the majority of Millersville's printing. Almost all of the paper is FSC Certified.
                           (M. Keim, personal communication, April 15, 2008)


        The Instructional Media Center (IMC)

  • Provides students with project materials. The IMC uses paper with 30% post-consumer content for their colored paper,            office paper, printing labs, and copy machines.         
                           (M. Kerr, personal communication, April 15, 2008)



  • Uses recycled products in their promotional items
  • The folding Hershey's cartons and six-pack trays are 95-100% recycled materials, containing pre-consumer and                   post-consumer content. (E. Coleman, personal communication, April 15, 2008)
  • Hershey packages their products in boxes made from 33% recycled content.                                                                                       (E. Coleman, personal communication, April 15, 2008)

Kunzler Meats

  • Kunzler purchases its packaging from Packing Corporation of America.                                                                                             (T. Musser, April 15, 2008)
  • The boxes include approximately 21% post-consumer waste. The inks used on the boxes are water-based.                                    (D. Calendar, April 15, 2008)          

GreenLine Paper Company

  • Sells environmentally sound office supplies; each product contains a minimum of 30% post-consumer waste
  • GreenLine Paper Company also certifies green offices
  • Find out more at
                   (S. Baker, Personal Communication, March 19, 2008)


Eco-Friendly Options

Choosing sustainable printing products and merchandise with a green print initiative is simple, once you know the basics. Major corporations, offices, and college campuses can print thousands of papers on a daily basis. But it's about more than large organizations; it's about individual consumers making a commitment to choosing a sustainable printing initiative. Look below to learn more about green products.


Recycled Paper

Recycled paper can seem rather confusing. There are various types, certifications, terms, and logos used on packaging. Here is what you need to know about recycled paper.

There are two types:

Coded paper
Coded paper is described as containing a varnish, or covering. Typical varnishes are either matte or gloss, designed to add a desired finish to the paper. Varnishes typically come in two types; petroleum-based or water-based.
(A field guide: Eco-friendly, efficient and effective printing, 2007, p. 22)

  • Varnishes applied by the printing press are generally solvent-based and emit VOCs during production. (A field guide: Eco-friendly, efficient and effective print, 2007, p. 22)

  • Water-based varnishes emit less VOCs during application.
    Paper with water based varnish can be re-pulped and recycled to make a new product. (A field guide: Eco-friendly, efficient and effective print, 2007, p. 22)

Uncoated paper
Uncoated paper is flat, without any added shine or gloss. Examples included printer paper, copier paper, and resume paper. The pulp created from recycling uncoated paper is of better quality than coded paper because it easier to remove ink when no coating is used, creating cleaner results.

Carbon neutral
Creating any product uses energy. Corporations and paper manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. Creating energy using wind-generated power is one way to create carbon neutrality. (A field guide: Eco-friendly, efficient and effective print, 2007, p. 9)

In efforts to preserve resources, purchasing carbon neutral products is also important, since carbon neutral processes use the smallest amount of energy possible.


Printing on coded paper








Recycled Paper Process

The process of recycling paper seems rather complex. Here's a quick breakdown of what happens to the paper from the time it is placed into the recycling bin until it is ready to be re-used.

Local recycling programs collects waste paper from recycling paper receptacles in offices,
libraries, communities, etc.

For security reasons, some of the paper will be shredded. The recycled waste is collected by a local waste hauler and sent to a recycling center.

Efficient recycling programs are set up to require less sorting time once the paper is collected.                     
Each collection bin is responsible for collecting different types of paper, such as white, ledger, newspaper, corrugated, etc.

Papers are separated in order to keep heavily inked papers from contaminating cleaner papers.
For example, newspapers are heavily inked and should be separated from cleaner office paper.

If waste papers are co-mingled (such as office and uncoated papers along with coated and magazine papers), they must be separated to guarantee that the raw materials will be a valuable source for recycling.

The paper supplier purchases sorted office papers, which are relatively clean. Paper suppliers typically purchase high-quality white paper that requires little to no cleaning and no bleaching.

The paper supplier has the right to reject any paper that does not meet their standards. Sometimes lack of quality recycled paper can cause a higher cost due to supply and demand.

Lower quality papers that are heavily inked, colored, coated, or mixed can be used to create recycled colored papers, newsprint, chip board, or corrugated papers.
The recycler takes a combination of paper sources and pulps them. The paper sources are then screened for debris, cleaned, and run through a centrifugal or dispersion unit, which grinds the paper into small fibers.

A flotation unit injects the cleaned stock with fine bubbles to float ink waste to the top of the tank for skimming.

If needed, a non-chlorine bleaching step may be added to brighten the fibers.

Pulp is then made into thick sheets. It is then dried and baled for shipping to the paper manufacturer.
The paper manufacturer purchases all raw fiber from the highest quality pulp, which is judged for cleanliness and brightness, meeting their criteria for recycled paper recipes.
The paper is then made and ready for purchasing.
Information provided by Debbie Mease at Mohawk Paper.


Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification

The Forest Stewardship Council is an organization dedicated to forest conservation and responsible use of the earth's resources. The organization accredits outside vendors, such as paper and printing companies, giving them permission to use its logo on products which meet the regulations and standards of the FSC.

Outside vendors seek this certification because consumers look for the FSC logo on products. This ensures the user they are choosing a sustainable product. In order for a product to be FSC certified, everyone involved within the practices must be FSC certified, from the company cutting the wood to the company printing the product. (A Field Guide, 2007, p.6)

Each individual company is given a certification number, which is displayed directly below the FSC logo. This gives you the ability to track that particular product all the way through the production process. (M. Stone, personal communication, March 26, 2008)

 The three stamps of the FSC:

  • FSC 100% from well-managed forests

  • The forests that produced this material met the requirements of the FSC. (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 6)

  • FSC Recycled, supporting responsible use of forest resource

  • This product contains post-consumer material. The fibers were from a product that was used by a consumer and recycled to create a new product. (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 6

  • FSC Mixed Sources-product group from well-managed forests, controlled sources, and recycled wood or fiber

  • The material used in this product comes from a combination of well-managed forests and recycled materials. (A Field Guide, 2007, p.6)

   For more information visit

trees and water


Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) Certification

The Sustainable Forest Initiative is an organization that desires to find a balance between sustainable environmental practices and business decisions. The organization is grounded upon nine standards, which are re-evaluated every five years. (A Field Guide, 2007, p.6)

     SFI Standards:

  • Sustainable forestry

  • Responsible practices

  • Reforestation and productive capacity

  • Forest health and productivity

  • Long-term forest and soil productivity

  • Protection of water resources

  • Protection of special sites and biological diversity

  • Legal compliance

  • Continual improvement

(SFI Standards, 2005-2009), For more information visit

Rainforest Alliance Logo

The Rainforest Alliance works in collaboration with the FSC to ensure that wood products are not illegally harvested, from forest conservations, or from trees that are genetically modified. (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 6)

     For more information on the Rainforest Alliance Logo, visit


Abundant Forest Alliance

The Abundant Forest Alliance is an organization concerned with the maintenance of healthy forests, renewing resources, and replanting trees. The Abundant Forest Alliance also advocates for conservation of all natural resources. (A Field Guide, 2007, p.6)

For more information on the Abundant Forest Alliance, visit

Sustainable Inks 101

Each ink is made of three components:

  • Pigments
  • Solvent vehicles
  • Additives

The pigment component is responsible for color. The solvent vehicles absorb the pigment. Most printing inks used oil-based vehicles because they are fast-drying with the best results. (Thompson, 1992)

The most popular oil is petroleum based. During the printing process, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), a form of pollutant, are released into the air. (Thompson, 1992)

Why Use Soy-Based Inks

In efforts to reduce air pollution, soy-based inks use soybean oils to replace a percentage of petroleum oils (National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers [NAPIM], 2007). Soy-based inks release less VOCs during printing.

The ingredients used to make vegetable and soy-based inks use a portion of renewable and biodegradable resources (NAPIM, 2007). Inks using soy ingredients use less irreplaceable resources and emit a reduced number of toxins in to the environment, making soy and vegetable-based inks a more sustainable choice.

Vegetable-Based Ink

Vegetable-based inks are similar to soy-based inks. They use renewable resources that have less of a harmful impact to the environment during the printing process. Vegetable-based inks replace a portion of the petroleum oil with vegetable oil, typically anywhere from 50-100% (Thompson, 1992).

A lot of lithographic offset inks use a combination of vegetable oil and petroleum oil (NAPIM, 2007). Many inks use a combination of both vegetable oils and soy oils in order to create a more sustainable printing product (NAPIM, 2007).

Soy Sealed Inks
The American Soybean Association (ASA) is a promotional membership organization for the use of soy resources ("American Soybean Association," 1996-2008). ASA works to publicize the various uses for soy in products, thus helping the soy industry. In order for an ink manufacturer to receive the soy seal, they must uphold the standards required by the organization. The standards are as follows:

These are the minimum percentages of soybean oil in order to receive the soy seal:

           Type of Ink:                    Percentage of Soy Content:

           Black news ink                                     40%

           Color news ink                                     30%

           Cold-set ink                                          30%

           Sheet-fed ink                                        20%

           Business forms ink                              20%

           Heat-set ink                                           7%

           UV/EB ink                                               7%

           Metallic ink                                           10%

           Carbon ink                                            25%

           Desensitizing ink                                  10%

           Stencil duplicator ink                              7%

Information Retrieved from "American Soybean Association," 1996-2008. For more information visit:

Ink Ingredients

The Typical Formula for News Ink is as follows...

                   Ingredient                                                          Weight Percent

                   Pigment                                                                     18-20

                   Soy oil                                                                        65-70

                   Vehicle*                                                                     10-15

                   High Boiling hydrocarbon oil                                        4-6


          *Vehicle is composed of...                                                

                                                                                             Weight Percent

                   Hydrocarbon resin (or low cost alternative)                  60

                   Hydrocarbon Oil                                                         40



The typical formula for Sheet fed Offset Ink is as follows...


                   Sheet Fed Ink Formula                                     Weight Percent

                   Pigment                                                                          12-16

                   Vehicle I**                                                                       40-45

                   Vehicle II***                                                                     30-35

                   Polyethylene wax compound                                            4-6

                   Cobalt drier                                                                    0.5-1.0

                   Manganese drier                                                            0.5-1.0

                   Antioxidant                                                                     0.5-1.0

                   Hydrocarbon oil                                                                 4-6


          *Vehicle i** is composed of...    


                   Vehicle I** formula                                               Weight Percent

                   Hard resin A                                                                    30-35

                   Hard resin B                                                                    20-25

                   Soy or other vegetable oil                                               50-60


                   Vehicle II***formula                                               Weight Percent

                   Hard resin C                                                                    30-40

                   Hard resin D                                                                    20-25

                   Soy or other vegetable oil                                               10-15

                   Hydrocarbon oil                                                               35-40

                   Aluminum chelate for gel vehicles                                  0.5-1.0                    


                   This information provided by our friends at National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, Inc.

                    (Daughtery, April 8, 2008).

Types of Vegetable-Based Oils Used for Printing

  • Sunflower
  • Linseed
  • Tung (also referred to as Chinawood)
  • Oiticica
  • Safflower

Choosing Sustainable Inks

Each type of oil has different benefits, which is why each ink is chosen depending on what is to be printed. The various oils have different drying rates, film forming properties, costs, and availabilities (NAPIM, 2007).

Heat Set Web Inks

These types of inks dry by evaporation of oils. The paper is passed through an oven, which provides heat to drive off volatiles, which are burned off so that almost no emissions are released into the atmosphere (NAPIM, 2007).

The percentages of vegetable oils used in this type of ink are very low (approximately 5-7%). Soy oil does not react well to heat, which is necessary for drying (NAPIM, 2007). Sheet Fed Inks

These types of inks dry with exposure to oxygen and absorption into the paper. Sheet fed inks typically contain a higher percentage of vegetable oil.
 Most widely-used oils in sheet fed inks include:
Linseed, Soy bean, Tung (also known as Chinawood), Other used oils include:
, Cottonseed, Peanut
, Coconut
, Palm
, Canola (rapeseed) safflower, Cashew, Walnut, Information provided by the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, 2007, Newspaper Inks, Newspaper inks are often composed of petroleum oil. Newspaper ink dries by absorbing into the paper (NAPIM, 2007). * A large portion of newspapers have switched to inks containing soy or vegetable-based oils.* Colored newspaper inks are typically 30% soy oil (NAPIM, 2007)


Choosing Recycled Paper: Recycled Paper Purchasing 101

Each sheet of paper is composed of fibers. Where the fibers come from is what determines sustainability. Paper companies use many terms to describe their products. It's difficult to understand what you're really purchasing. Here are a few things to look for when shopping for paper:

            Virgin paper

                                       o This paper is produced directly from trees and has never been used before. This type of paper is the strongest                                and purest form, and it takes a lot of energy to produce. Virgin paper production has the most direct effect on                                the forest.

                               When purchasing paper made of virgin fiber, check to make sure the trees were harvested specifically for                                      paper production. It is especially important to recycle this type of paper. Virgin fibers are the purest and will                                make the best recycled products. (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 3)

            Recycled paper

                                       o Recycled paper uses the same fibers over and over again. According to Monadnock Paper Mills, 37% of the                                raw material used to make paper products are recovered fibers (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 3). Recycled paper                                      content may include:


Pre-Consumer Waste: The paper uses fiber that was recycled from the waste created at the paper mill or printer. These fibers have never been used by a consumer; they're generally created because of unsold products or the need to cut or alter a publication (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 3).

Post-Consumer Waste (PCW): This type of paper uses fibers taken from a product that was used by a consumer and recycled. Purchasing paper containing post-consumer waste is the most eco-friendly solution because the original product was recycled in order to create a new product (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 3).

Totally Recycled Fiber (TRF): The fibers used to make this type of paper are 100% recycled material. Products that are labeled TRF most likely contain pre-consumer waste, post-consumer waste, or both (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 3).

Paper Bleaching

Depending on the paper manufacturer, harsh chemicals may be used in order to make the whitest product. Bleach and chlorine ingredients may be used, which weakens fibers, making them thinner and less likely to be recycled. The chemicals not only weaken the paper's fibers, but they are also released into the environment.

The terms used to describe how paper is prepared are often confusing. Here's what some of the commonly used terms really mean.

Understanding Bleaching Terminology:


Process Chlorine Free (PCF): Simply stated, no chlorine or chlorine compounds were used in the papermaking or pulp making process. The fibers in the product were not bleached in the process of making this particular paper, although if the fibers were used previously they may have been bleached before the product was created (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 5).

Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF): The paper was bleached, although the chlorine element was not used. A chlorine dioxide is often used. Chlorine dioxide provides similar results to chlorine bleaching, but does not contain the chlorine element (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 5).

Totally Chlorine Free (TCF): No bleaching occurred to this product. No chlorine or chlorine compounds were used (A Field Guide, 2007, p. 5).

Price Comparison

I recently visited a popular store selling office products in order to do a price comparison between recycled and non-recycled paper. Here are the results I came up with

  • Store brand copy paper averaged the lowest price per sheet
  • 30% recycled paper copy paper was an additional 4 cents per pound
  • 100%  recycled paper was additional 8 cents per pound
  • (Prices from, retrieved February 20, 2008)


Recycled paper is more available than one might think. Almost anywhere that you can purchase paper, you can purchase recycled paper. Any local office supply store or discount convenience store selling office paper typically also carries a recycled paper product.

Purchasing Sustainable Inkinkjet printer

   Water-based Ink

A lot of inkjet printing cartridges use water-based ink (Daughetery, April 8, 2008). To choose the best print initiative on your personal inkjet printer, check to make sure you are purchasing a water-based ink that is biodegradable. Currently, there is no soy or vegetable-based ink for the average consumer to use for their home printing needs (S. Baker, personal communication, March 19, 2008).



Recycling Ink Cartridges

Recycling your ink cartridge is a simple way to help the environment. Many companies will refill your original ink cartridge while you shop, allowing you to reuse the cartridge that could possibly end up in a landfill. Some stores offer cash back or discounts for every ink cartridge that you bring in to have recycled (Staples Soul, 2007). Before you throw out that ink cartridge, think of refilling or recycling it.
For more information visit:

Bulk Printing: Organizational Printing Needs

Types of Printing

Lithography (offset printing)

According to Monadnock Paper Mills, 50% of the commercial print industry uses offset printing. During this printing process, the icon is transferred onto a printing plate that is coated with ink and a water-based fountain solution. The image is then placed on a rubber blanket before it is printed on the paper (A  Field Guide: Eco-friendly, efficient andeffective print, 2007, p.21).

This process is more environmentally friendly when the printer uses an alcohol-free substitute during the plate-making process and vegetable- and soy-based inks during the printing process (A Field Guide: Eco-friendly, efficient and effective print, 2007, p. 21).    


Digital Imaging and Printing

Digital imaging uses nontoxic and biodegradable toner. Digital printing creates the graphic content in an electric form, which allows the printer to stop the process whenever needed and produce smaller quantities. It eliminates any chemicals associated with the film and plate process, making it the most sustainable printing choice (A Field Guide: Eco-friendly, efficient and effective print, 2007,  p.21).

Waterless Printing

The waterless printing process uses a multilayered rubber plate made of silicone and special ink. The entire printing process is faster, cleaner, uses less energy, and creates less paper waste. It also reduces the number of VOCs released into the air. Waterless printing is known for producing detailed and high-quality products (A Field Guide: Eco-friendly, efficient and effective print, 2007, p. 22).

UV Inks and Coatings

UV inks are printed as a paste-liquid and then are changed into a solid film when exposed to an ultraviolent light. The UV Inks and Coating process is known for high-quality results without releasing VOCs or any solvents into the atmosphere. Even after being coated, the paper can be re-pulped and de-inked in order to produce a new product (A field guide: Eco-friendly, efficient and effective print, 2007, p. 22).

This information was compiled from A Field Guide: Eco-Friendly, Efficient and Effective Print, produced by Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.

What Can You Do as an Organization?

With the use of e-mail, offices are beginning to conserve paper, but at this point few offices are paperless. Think about the big picture. Major corporations and college campuses worldwide print thousands and thousands of sheets of paper on a daily basis. But we have to start small. Individual consumers who make the switch can make a difference, especially over time. Here are a few suggestions for organizations

  • Purchase recycled paper; indicate your sustainability initiative on the product.
  • Note the fact that you used vegetable or soy-based ink during the printing process.
  • Encourage the user to recycle the product after they're finished.
  • (A Field Guide, 2007)

Purchasing Paper In Bulk

In general, purchasing items in bulk often allows the purchaser to receive a discount. Take a detailed look at the differences between various paper products. Often, the higher percentage of post-consumer content in the paper, the more expensive the product is. Although you might want to purchase the highest post-consumer waste product as possible, think about the switch in the long run. Purchasing several packages of 30% recycled paper has more of an impact than purchasing one package of 100% recycled paper.

Recycled Toner Cartridges

Consider purchasing remanufactured toner cartridges. They are typically 10-50% cheaper in comparison to the cost of new toner cartridges. Recycling ink cartridges reuses plastic, reduces solid waste, and uses less energy to create (GreenLine Paper Company, 2008, p.18).

For more information visit:

Professional Printing
Local Options

Choosing the most eco-friendly option also means buying local. Transporting items across long distances uses more energy and releases fuel emissions into the environment; undoing any environmental benefit. When choosing a local printer, make sure to ask about their ink and paper choices.

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This site was created by Erin Clifford ( who is a student at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Last updated on February 10, 2008

© 2007 Millersville University. All Rights Reserved.