Paper seems like such an innocuous thing. Apart from the odd paper cut and the waste caused by unwanted mail, it doesn’t seem to do much harm. Conventional printing methods, however, can be very harmful to the environment. One ton of virgin paper – paper that only uses pulp from trees that have been cut down – uses three tons of wood and around 19,000 gallons of water, not to mention the countless toxic chemicals used to make the paper stronger, easier to print on and more resistant to aging and discoloration. And that’s just what is used when making paper.
This is striking more and more people as deeply upsetting, and countless eco-friendly printing techniques have been developed to cut down on waste, replace harmful chemicals with more biodegradable options and use less non-renewable energy, all without sacrificing the quality of the final product.
Most consumers are aware of recycled paper. It often brings to mind brown paper that blasts its eco-credentials loudly while disregarding the printing quality or writing experience of the person using it. This is a largely outdated concept, as consumers are becoming more discerning in the quality of their paper and its provenance. Paper manufacturers are answering this demand for ethical products by producing recycled papers that look and feel like high-quality virgin papers and also have their ability to reproduce detailed prints beautifully.
Buying the most eco-friendly paper is possible, but it does mean being strict about certain qualities. The first quality is the amount of post-consumer waste (PCW) in the paper. Many papers can claim to be recycled paper but are only have 30% post-consumer waste in them. Those that are completely recycled will advertise themselves as being 100% PCW.
The most eco-friendly papers will not be bleached or processed using chlorine. Chlorine and its derivatives make the paper bright white and removes the chemical that makes paper turn yellow as it ages, but the chemicals are then dumped into the water supply, which can harm the environment. To get a bright white paper without using bleach, most paper manufacturers use what is known as tree-free pulp – pulp that is made from other sources, like hemp or reeds. That paper is marked ‘TCF’, or ‘totally chlorine free’. Most recycled paper has some bleached paper in its supply of pulp, so it is marked ‘PCF’, or ‘processed chlorine free’, which demonstrates that the manufacturers didn’t use bleach when making the recycled paper.
There are more ways to ensure paper is as eco-friendly as possible, even if it does come from trees. Many papers are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and many manufacturers proudly advertise the fact that they use renewable energy, like solar and wind power, to make their papers.
Ink and toner
Finding eco-friendly inks and toner is more problematic for home office printers. The greenest inks are vegetable or soy-based, rather than petroleum-based like traditional inks, which use chemicals that damage the environment and the people who work with them. Nonetheless, it is hard to find cartridges that use vegetable or soy-based ink and toner for non-commercial printers.
For most people, it is much easier to simply find ways to reduce the amount of ink they use. The simplest way to do this is to avoid printing things, if possible. Another option is to use fonts which use less ink when being printed. The most eco-friendly of the traditional fonts are Garamond and Century Gothic. They are sans serif, so they do not have extra flourishes that use up more ink, and their letters are also thinner than most fonts’ letters. There is also a font specifically designed to use less ink. Called, appropriately enough, Eco Font, the font’s letters feature practically invisible dots, which allows the printer to use less ink.
It is possible to save ink when designing the item being printed. Using only one or two colours on printed material cut down both on the amount of ink used and on the amount of ink wasted.
Eco-friendly printing techniques
The last consideration when trying to improve the green credentials of printing is the technique used. Printing on both sides of the page cuts down on the amount of paper used. Try using smaller margins to ensure as much content is on each page as possible. If it is at all possible, use renewable power – like solar or wind – to run the printer. Previewing the document before printing can allow a person to take out pages that do not need to be printed, which saves ink and paper. Finally, when looking at purchasing a new printer, look for ones that are Energy Star compliant and that have duplex settings. A duplex setting allows you to print on both sides of the page with little effort.
Incorporating green printing techniques is not difficult, but it does require some commitment. Keep in mind the three R’s of green living:
and it should be fairly easy to make sure your future printing needs are as eco-friendly as possible.
[Author Bio: This post was written by Clickinks.com, an online distributor of printer ink cartridges that carries a full range of products for the top 25 printer brands on the market.]
Image: Marcin Wichary