Companies, designers, and individuals don’t often think about the environment when printing their books, leaflets, and cards. Their priority is making it look good. But we can still make amazing designs without compromising the earth. The answer is simple. Sustainable printing.
As printing is now happening everywhere; at homes, at offices, and even commercially, it is taking a big toll on the planet. However, there are ways to reduce that impact and make printing more eco-friendly.
This is especially important for graphic designers and illustrations whose life is all about printing their designs either on paper or a product. But everyone can implement these tips and practices including individuals like you and large corporations.
Impact Of Printing
Firstly, I want to talk about the impact printing has on the environment. I’ll break it down into 3 things. Resources, energy, and waste.
First of all, let’s talk about the materials used in printing. It’s generally paper/card and ink. To make the paper, trees need to be cut down. This is a huge global industry and so hectares of forest are cut down every day to supply the world with paper. The ink used is in many cases petroleum-based, a finite resource. They also contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are toxic to the environment, wildlife, and us.
Printing also uses a lot of energy which is from fossil fuels most of the time. The emissions contribute to climate change and pollute cities.
Finally, the printing industry creates waste. Think about how much you have printed and how much of it ended up in the bin. Unfortunately, most of the things we print go to the bin a day, a week, or a month later. While a lot of does get recycled, people still throw away a lot of paper in normal bins. So what’s the solution to these problems?
How to make printing more sustainable
There are various ways to make printing more eco-friendly on a small scale as well as on an industrial scale. Each of these points below will help with each of the 3 problems mentioned above. Resource depletion, energy use, and waste production.
Sustainable Printing Materials
All materials used in the printing process should be biodegradable/compostable and non-toxic. Those are two of the most important qualities they should have so if they find themselves in nature, they won’t cause harm like past ink cartridge ocean spills have caused.
1. Sustainable Printing Paper
Always use recycled paper instead of virgin premium paper when possible. Or get paper that uses a mix of recycled fibers and virgin fibers. The least environmentally friendly are the ones that only use virgin fibers. This is the one to avoid. By using more recycled fibers from the paper we have already produced, we can reduce the rate of deforestation.
Check for the FSC label before purchasing paper too. This will ensure that it comes from sustainably sourced forests.
There’s one more thing to look out for though. Chlorine-free paper. Maybe you weren’t aware of this, but they usually bleach paper to make the paper as white as it is and give it a nice appearance. But it is harmful to the environment and aquatic wildlife. So try your best to search for chlorine-free paper next time.
Eco-friendly inks tend to be vegetable-based instead of petroleum-based. Using plant-based ink massively reduces its environmental impact. The most common one is soy-based. Did you know that it’s cheaper? So by choosing the eco path, you’ll be using the most cost-effective option too.
And on top of that, they produce brighter colored images so your designs will look sharper. Plant-based inks are renewable too as we can grow crops over and over again. The benefits don’t end there. It’s also easier to remove the ink during the recycling process.
So stop using petroleum-based ink which is toxic and harmful.
Environmentally Friendly Printing Practices
3. Reducing Waste
There are various ways to reduce waste. One is to make sure to double-check what you want to print and preview it before pressing print because if there’s a mistake, the whole batch will go to waste.
If we’re talking about large-scale printing, a good way to reduce waste is to start using on-demand printing instead of mass manufacturing everything.
Any waste that you do produce should be reused or recycled instead of throwing it away in the bin to eliminate as much waste as possible.
4. Reduce Energy Consumption
Printing takes energy therefore to make it as sustainable as possible, the building should preferably be powered by renewable energy. Thankfully, clean energy sources are growing and more cities are starting to be powered by either solar or wind.
The equipment should be as energy-efficient as possible to further reduce electricity consumption. You could take it a step further and make the whole workspace more energy-efficient too.
5. Recycle Empty Cartridges
While this is not the easiest thing to do right now, I do hope in the future it will become more convenient. Currently, what you need to do is type in the brand of ink cartridges you have followed by the word ‘recycling’. Various results will come up telling you the steps you need to follow.
The usual procedure is they send you a box so you can send the empty ink cartridges back to them (for free).
6. Go Paperless
Obviously, the most eco-friendly and sustainable thing to do is to stop/reduce printing. So if you have the choice, keep it on the screen.
Technology is getting better by the month so now it’s easier to use computers, tablets, and phones to take notes, view presentations and so much more. Take advantage of it and go digital. Elimate paper as much as you can.
7. Track Your Printing
You’ll be surprised by how much your printing decreases as soon as you start tracking how much you print. This is because when you track yourself, you think twice before clicking print. It also makes you aware of how much you are printing. Once you see just how much paper you are ‘wasting’, you’ll be motivated to reduce it.
Especially in a school or office environment, tracking everyone’s printing is proved to massively reduce paper use.
It’s a very easy thing that everyone can do. If you can, print on both sides of the paper and you’ll half the amount of paper you use instantly. Why waste an entire side of a piece of paper. Especially if you need to print out long documents, printing on both sides is so important if you want to become more eco-friendly.
09. Maximize Space
Use as much of the page as possible. One way to do this is by changing the margins. Make them smaller so you can fit more words on a page. If you have a long document, making the margins smaller could definitely save you a few pages.
It might seem insignificant, but small things do add up.
We often have old pieces of paper lying around that we don’t need anymore. If there’s still space on the paper to write, use it to take notes. Don’t let paper go to waste for no good reason. This is not the only way to reuse paper though. Get creative. Don’t throw it in the bin straight away. It might come in handy in the future.
11. Invest In A Eco Printer
Another great way to make printing more sustainable is by using an eco printer. By investing in new and more efficient printing equipment, you could greatly reduce energy consumption. Old printers usually use up more energy than newer ones as the technology was not as good as it is now. When it’s time to get a new printer, search for ones that are eco-friendly and highly efficient. But watch out for greenwashing!
12. Print Quality Content
Only print information and designs that will be useful to you or someone else. Print content that you or someone else will want to keep for a long time. Don’t print something if it will end up in the bin a few hours later. Don’t make your content single-use. Create savable content and designs that are both informative and good-looking.
13. Compost Or Recycle
If you are printing a design or a flyer, make sure that it is can be recycled or composted. Paper should not end up in landfills. Put it in the recycling at the end of its lifecycle if you can’t use it anymore. Another great alternative is to compost. But make sure that the ink is non-toxic before throwing it in the compost.
14. Educate Everyone Around You
Now that you know what you need to make printing your designs more eco-friendly, spread the word so that more people do this as well. Education is key. Inform those around you. These tips and practices are very simple, and everyone can do them.
Become more conscious of your choices and raise awareness of ways to be more environmentally friendly.
As you can see, there’s a lot that can be done to make printing more eco-friendly and sustainable. Some are easier or more expensive than others but slowly, slowly start following more of these sustainable printing practices.
Especially if you are a designer and your life depends on printing your designs, make sure to follow these. Our art and creativity shouldn’t harm the environment. We can still make it look good and be eco-friendly at the same time. You don’t have to sacrifice quality for eco-friendliness or the way round.