Soy Ink – Not the Cure-All for a Greening Printing Industry

30 09 2008

I read an interesting post today on the Eco-Libris blog about soy inks not being as environmentally friendly as most people think. That includes me. I thought anything that had to do with soy was good for you! (Tofu is supposedly good, but the texture keeps me away. Soy beans are good…they’re the only kind of bean that I can eat without tons of stuff on them. But I digress.)

The whole idea of soy inks, as well as other vegetable-based inks like cottonseed and linseed, is that when they dry, they produce less amounts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than petroleum-based inks. VOCs are pollution and they contribute to global warming. VOCs have been linked to causing asthma and other respiratory ailments. Some have even claimed VOCs are linked to cancer. VOCs are basically the funky smell emitted from paints, stains, magic markers, turpentine and other solvents. These are the things that can make you dizzy and sick if you breathe too much of it in.

Soy inks take longer to dry than “regular” petroleum-based inks, so many soy inks are still basically made of petroleum so that they dry faster. 

So, soy inks aren’t made completely of soy, but if they give off less VOCs, isn’t that a step in the right direction? I think so.

Pair soy inks with digital printing and I don’t care what others say, that’s better for the environment than the alternative – petroleum-based inks used on offset presses. Like I said, every little bit helps.

Here are some ways digital printing helps the environment:

1. There are no plates, which means no cleaning solvents, no spray powders and no solid waste disposal requirements.
2. These presses emit little or no VOCs. They can be run in standard office environments since they are so clean. This leads to less travel by big trucks that emit pollution into the environment.
3. Digital presses don’t require ventilation or emissions capture equipment because there’s no need to capture any harmful emissions. This reduces printers’ energy consumption.
4. Digital presses can print on a wide range of recycled stock. You might not be able to print every stock on every press, but there is a large range that most printing jobs can be successfully fulfilled.

Digital printing with soy inks can also be taken a step further. If printers didn’t require long print runs, their customers wouldn’t waste paper by printing more items than they need. The printer’s customers wouldn’t have tons of extra brochures taking up space, which eventually get thrown out because they need to be updated, which would save trees.

So even though soy inks aren’t all that I thought they were, and perhaps what you thought they were, I’ve decided that’s okay because we’re heading in the right direction. If non-pure soy ink can lead to pure soy ink or can lead to new ways of printing greener, I’m all for it.

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