The Environmental impact of printing

The impact of printing on the environment is often overlooked by even the more environmentally aware businesses and organisations. The UK printing industry is generally acknowledged to be the 5th largest industry in the UK and the 6th most environmentally damaging. It's not just a matter of using recycled paper; there are many other factors involved.

According to the Health and Safety office of the UK's Graphical, Paper and Media Union (GPMU), printers inhale organic solvents all day long. It is becoming acknowledged in the print industry that the effects of occupational exposure to organic solvents include damage to liver, kidneys and lungs, degreasing of the skin and dermatitis, effects on the nervous system and more severe effects from large acute exposure.

For example, there are dozens of chemicals used, containing such things as dissolved silver, phosphoric acid and isopropyl alcohol. A 1995 document from the Ontario Printing and Imaging Association lists 46 different compounds used in printing and the proper ways to handle them.

One of the biggest changes in the industry in recent years is the development of waterless offset printing, as used by Seacourt, also based in Oxford. It removes the need to mix water and alcohol in the printing process, saving vast amounts of solvents, chemicals and water, and the quality of reproduction is much higher than with conventional offset printing. Waterless offset reduces VOCs (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions by 98%. Research by the Waterless Printing Association calculates that the average printer emits 20 tonnes of VOCs a year. VOCs are a major contributor to the formation of low level ozone, which can cause respiratory problems and aggravate asthma symptoms.

Waterless printing also - not surprisingly - uses far less water than conventional printing. It is estimated that a medium-sized printer with three presses could use up to 120,000 litres of water each year and there are at least 12,000 printing companies in the UK. During the past century, whilst the world population has tripled, the volume of fresh water available has remained the same. Yet world water usage has increased over six fold.

As can be seen from the superb quality of the work we commission from Seacourt, being a sustainable printer doesn't mean compromising on quality. Nor does it mean your publication will cost the earth.