Green Solutions for the Print Industry

Each week our company gets enquiries about what products we offer in order to be more environmentally friendly. The problem is, there are a lot of products out there, and different definitions about what constitutes a “green” product. To make matters even worse, manufactures claims are poorly regulated, throwing an added level of doubt and confusion into the mix.

Let me be up front and tell you, as an owner of a graphics company I approached these eco-friendly products with an enormous amount of skepticism. First off, supposedly “green” products were enormously more expensive than their standard counterparts. Secondly, I had real concerns about whether or not these products were actually accomplishing anything to save the environment. How could I justify selling products to clients that I did not believe in AND charge 3-4 times more money for them at the same time?

BIO-DEGRADABILITY

My concerns came from the idea of “bio-degradability”. Where does most trash end up? In a landfill. Landfills are like enormous “mummifiers”. The joke is that you could throw something into a landfill, come back in a 1,000 years and it would be perfectly preserved. The reason for this is that in order for objects, even those that are bio-degradable, to break down they need nitrogen, oxygen and other chemicals in order to facilitate that process. Without getting too technical, just think about the old family compost. It only worked if you turned it regularly right? A landfill is simply a giant compost. Don’t turn it, and it won’t break down. Currently, 99% of U.S. landfills are standard “non-turning” landfills.

The proponents of bio-degradability claim that trash which degrades inside the landfill is beneficial to the environment. Many manufacturers have brought to market expensive banner materials that have special microbes capable of ingesting the PVC resins leaving behind a bio-degradable non-toxic sodium powder. Now I’m willing to concede that a bio-degradable product could be more beneficial to the environment than regular vinyl banner products, but only in the sense that sleeping on the job gets more work done than not showing up to work at all.

The problem here is that, you are basically throwing a beautiful bio-degradable mess in with the rest of the trash that is in the landfill. Currently the percentage of trash being thrown away that is bio-degradable is a small amount of the trash that ends up in the landfill. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume a HUGE percentage of trash that goes into a landfill IS bio-degradable (please excuse my detour into fantasyland. This WILL go somewhere), let’s say 95%.

OK, now imagine you are going to eat a nice juicy prime rib steak. For me, that means it’s perfectly marinated and cooked up medium rare with some grilled mushrooms, and a side of garlic mashed potatoes. Well, at least 95% of this mouth watering meal is. The other 5% is raccoon road kill. But hey, it’s only 5% right?

I think you probably see my point. As with the steak, that 5% of toxic trash is going to ruin the other 95% of the trash heap.

Bio-Degradability may sound like a good idea, but is it really worth spending the 3-4 times more money for something that really is spinning its wheels in terms of actually benefitting the environment?
RECYCLABILITY

That leads us to the other huge cog in the great wheel of green production: recyclability. The upside on recyclability is that it ensures that product continues to be used in one form or another over and over again. So, instead of ending up in a landfill, it ends up with a new life as the same product, or in some cases enjoys a new life as something completely different. The downside here is that it requires a little more diligence on the part of the end user, as the product needs to eventually get back to a production facility that works with recycled materials.

Recycling materials is more work, but the benefits are clearly defined and self evident in comparison to bio-degradability. To recycle your products requires first, having a manufacturing partner that is willing to recycle product, second, you must have a plan to get your graphics to the manufacturer rather than the trash, and lastly, you need to be buying product that is both recyclable and created from as much recycled content as possible.

Basically, the idea here is that you are closing the production loop, so that rather than the production process being:

Manufacturer > Printer > Useful Life > Landfill

Instead, the process looks like this:

Manufacturer > Printer > Useful Life > Manufacturer

ABI Digital Solutions calls this process doing MORE: MUTUALLY OPERATING TO RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT. It’s more work, but the results are real and sustainable. Also, ABI Digital Solutions makes the process turnkey and simple.

First, ABI Digital Solutions has already done the research and works with manufacturers that DO recycle. Not only that, but they pay attention to the smaller details that sometimes we forget, such as looking at the overall “carbon footprint” of a product(for example looking at the amount of energy use involved with getting a product to the market place).

Second, ABI Digital Solutions assists you in having a plan to get product recycled. Simply let us know what products you plan to recycle when you order, and we will provide a pre-addressed and pre-paid shipping label for you to get the material to a recycling storage point (we store the materials until we have enough to ship a large amount all at once rather than sending lots of individual shipments).
Lastly, ABI has found (and continues to find!) an entire family of recyclable products to help meet all your cheer event needs.

CONCLUSION
Basically, have a plan! There are a lot of green options out there, but just because a product says it is “green” does not make it so. A few years ago, there were not many options, so choosing a green option certainly accomplished SOMETHING, as opposed to doing nothing, and that’s certainly a good thing (if you could afford it. Those initial options were EXPENSIVE!). Now, practically everyone offers some sort of green option, and it really has gotten a lot more confusing. A buyer really is trying to determine not only what is the most green option, but also what’s the most best green option for the price. That’s why ABI Digital Solutions has put so much effort into trying to wade through all the hype and information to assist their clients in navigating these rocky shores. Obviously we hope that you will choose ABI Digital Solutions to assist you in your green production needs, but we also hope that whatever you do, you think about your production needs from a new place that really helps to assist the environment.