By Melissa Donovan
Is it “green”? Most standards require that the substrate is “free of” specific elements or chemicals. Many products are touted as free of PVC, oil, petroleum, halogens, phthalates, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). When a substrate doesn’t contain these, it could be less harmful to the environment or promote recyclability.
Certain components are substituted in placed of non-friendly elements. Not only do they aid in the composition of a more sustainable product, they must also provide a level of print quality, ink compatibility, and reliability required by both the print provider and end user.
Common Elements and Chemicals
Certain elements or chemicals are targets for removal. PVC with chlorine and other unfriendly additives; halogens; phthalates; oil; VOCs; heavy metals—lead, barium, cadmium; APE; formaldehyde; plasticizers; BPA; bleach; composites; chromium additives—stabilizers and pigments; asbestos; organotin; chlorofluorocarbons; carcinogens; phosphate; and glycol-ether are just some.
“Among the most common requests pertain to certain phthalate plasticizers are commonly found in PVC. Then there is cadmium-based stabilizers, which were historically used in a lot of PVC. On the polypropylene side, benzyl butyl phthalate is talked about frequently,” shares Dennis Brunnett, product manager, advertising, FLEXcon.
While some of elements and chemicals are commonly known as unfriendly to the environment, others are determined so by various governing bodies like REACH’s Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC)—phthalates, AZO dyes, DMF, PAHs, PFOs, PFCs, and lead.
“According to REACH regulation, a substance may be proposed as a SVHC if it meets one or more of these conditions—it is carcinogenic; mutagenic; toxic for reproduction; persistent, bio accumulative, and toxic according to the standards set out in the REACH regulation; or on a case-by-case basis if ‘there is scientific evidence of probable serious side effects to human health or the environment, which, give rise to an equivalent level of concern,” explains Karen Stuerenberg, marketing director, Top Value Fabrics.
What’s the Harm?
When a substrate does not include one of the aforementioned elements or chemicals, their absence can classify the media as safer. If in the media, however, they may be harmful to the environment and the people in it or prevent recyclability.
PVC is considered both harmful and prevents recyclability. For example, interior-based applications benefit from a PVC-free substrate. “Some PVCs and formaldehyde have the potential to cause harm when certain levels are reached in well-defined areas, especially interior applications where there isn’t a high level of air turnover,” explains Jim Tufts, unit manager, Perception Wide Format Media.
“Carcinogens, when manufactured or incinerated, release harmful dioxins into the environment. Research has shown that PVC continually emits carcinogens that are linked to cancer and other illnesses, even leading to phase outs among major consumer brands,” agrees Joe Deetz, CEO, Visual Magnetics LP.
PVC is not recyclable and does not break down in landfills, says John Coyne, sales manager, Lintec of America, Inc.
Christian Nole, marketing coordinator, Katz Americas, explains why. “If a substrate were to include certain elements that are not eco-friendly, there is a much higher risk of that product damaging the environment at the end of the product lifecycle. Take PVC/plastics for example; at a certain point in the product lifecycle, elements of the media can no longer be recycled back into production of new material and must be disposed of in a landfill. When this happens, many of the elements in these composite materials take a longer time to breakdown or cannot be broken down at all, in which case they would be disposed of in ways that would release harmful toxins directly into the surrounding atmosphere.”
Besides PVC, other components also have their share of unfriendly traits. According to Stan Holt, business development manager North America, Continental Grafix USA, Inc., polyurethanes, duroplastes, and polyimides cannot be recycled. Plasticizers such as benzoates and phthalates can be toxic and dangerous for health and the environment.
“Heavy metal contaminants such as lead and barium pose a health risk if ingested, making them of particular concern when printing magnets that may be touched or handled by children,” explains Jim Cirigliano, marketing manager, Magnum Magnetics Corporation.
Halogens—fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine—are dangerous, particularly during disposal. “If a halogenated plastic is incinerated, the halogen is freed from the plastic structure. During the incineration process, halogens, which are highly reactive, react with any available water to form very strong acids like HCI and HF. To prevent these byproducts from going into the atmosphere, the incineration stack must have special scrubbers that limit halogen release and also require certain chemicals to neutralize the material. These chemicals can then become hazardous waste,” says Mandy Hulke, product development engineer, 3M Commercial Solutions.
In the absence of non eco-friendly components, something generally needs to be substituted. These alternatives are greener in a number of ways. Unfortunately, many of them are kept under wraps, a secret sauce if you will. Most vendors won’t allude to if something is phthalate-free, what element is making the film flexible in its stead. Or if there isn’t any PVC, what components are creating a stable, durable media?
“With sustainability being such a major aspect of the industry, manufacturers are a bit reluctant to reveal what they are doing to go green. Sustainability is not easy and at times can be expensive, so if you have a formula that allows you to achieve this effectively, it really is a competitive advantage,” explains Jason Yard, marketing manager, Mactac Distributor Products.
“As of now, there is not one common substitute in the industry for these chemicals. They are ubiquitous in the industry because of their high performance, availability, and cost,” says Hulke.
Some known solutions include recycled polyester. “Polypropylene or polyester are common substitutes for PVC because they have the same or better performance characteristics. In most cases, they are also recyclable,” shares Clay Reierson, project manager, Xcel Products, Inc.
Dickson Coatings’ EverGreen fabrics consist of polyester yarns and water-based coatings, so they are free of PVC, phthalates, formaldehyde, phosphate, and glycol-ether. According Gautier Peers, territory sales manager, Dickson Coatings USA, this makes them non-toxic and environmentally friendly, never containing substances that are harmful to health by contact or inhalation.
Pacific Coast Fabrics’ Deko-Green(FR) is made up of 100 recycled polyester filament, which consists of soda bottles.
“Using recycled polyester in the production of woven polyester greatly reduces the amount of virgin petroleum that goes into a fabric,” suggests Tufts.
In lieu of PVC, there is also urethane film. “Urethane films contain no halogens, phthalates, PVC, or VOCs. Because urethane is inherently conformable, it requires no plasticizers to maintain its flexibility. Additionally, urethane films can be recycled using chemical and mechanical means,” explains Chris Hagen, application specialist/graphic films, Argotec LLC.
Natural AdCampaign promotes 100 percent natural products, meaning nothing has been substituted because there is no need—there is no oil or other synthetics used in the manufacture. 100 percent natural, the products are made from jute and cotton, sustainable raw materials.
Paper-based substrates used in place of plastic board are another option. “Substrates made from natural material such as wood pulp and paper are able to be recycled easier than composites, while being naturally biodegradable at the end of the product life cycle,” explains Nole.
Tony Lampariello, national rigid media manager, Agfa Graphics, agrees—explaining in addition to paper-based boards, other substitutions include honeycomb core materials or fluted paperboards.
“Many fiber alternatives are recyclable. Those that aren’t may be safely incinerated and will breakdown if landfilled with no harmful substances left behind,” says Paul Ciccone, VP research and development, Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.
Another alternative to MDF, particle board, and non-renewable rigid or foam-filled plastic sheeting are natural based fiber boards with a kraft core. Xanita Print consists of a recycled kraft core sandwiched between printable white kraft liners. The high-crush strength kraft core is manufactured from post-consumer recycled Kraft and sugar cane bagasse waste.
Keeping Up Appearances
While substitutions may make media more sustainable, other characteristics must be kept in mind. The substrate needs to perform at the level its less eco-friendly counterpart does. This means intended print quality, ink compatibility, and reliability all need to be met. The goal is for a green product to still have the same printing capabilities, according to Matt Meyer, marketing coordinator, Plastiprint Sales Company.
“Research and development (R&D) teams are always reviewing chemical formulations and looking to utilize non-harmful chemicals into their products. This can be daunting task since many chemicals and elements are needed in order to make treatments, ink receptive top coatings, and/or fire retardant formulations,” admits Eric Tischer, president, Verseidag US.
Lily Hunter, product manager, textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation, says the effectiveness of greener replacement components is evaluated during the product’s R&D phase. “It’s a matter of qualifying the raw materials, finding the right combination, making sure the product has desired qualities, and testing for printability and durability. It basically comes down to trial and error. It can take years for the media manufacturer to find all the right materials and components while still keeping the end product affordable,” she continues.
There are benefits beyond sustainability. Regarding PVC-free products, specifically fabric, Peers says that it is lighter, transport is cheaper, and installation is easier. In addition, the material projects a more appealing, natural look and is glare free.
Hagen points out that urethane film is highly conformable and extremely weatherable, standing up to UV radiation, abrasion, and chemicals—making it ideal for automotive wraps and other outdoor applications.
Paper-based substrates have their share of rewards. “There have been tremendous improvements in the durability of fiber-based substrates that satisfy the performance requirements of many commercial applications,” shares Ciccone.
Nole says that those with wood pulp cores offer a smoother, cleaner print surface with little to no static in flatbed printing.
With finishing in mind, “many of the fiber-based products are also easily formed or cut, and can be used for short-term point of purchase displays,” agrees Marty Davis, director, wide format and graphics, Mac Papers.
Despite many of these replacement elements and/or chemicals meeting demand, there are disadvantages.
“Application is the most important item. Clearly a PVC-free mesh while suitable for short-term outdoor use will not withstand weather conditions as well as the PVC-coated version when looking for long-term installation,” admits Joseph M. Rooney, North American sales manager, Heytex.
“We’ve found that some of the greener options do not hold up as well in outdoor applications due to their biodegradable and natural properties,” explains Nole.
According to Yard, “sometimes these materials do not last as long outdoors because the chemicals used will break down, turn yellow, or fade quicker than a traditional PVC.”
Ink compatibility is also an issue. “Not all inks stick to polypropylene or polyester unless the surface is top coated—which adds an additional cost on top of higher priced polypropylene and polyester resins,” shares Reierson.
Each eco-friendly product differs in composition. While most may be free from PVC, oil, petroleum, halogens, phthalates, or VOCs, replacement components vary by manufacturer. It is up to the print provider to enact their due diligence when it comes to confirming whether the media is in fact green and can perform adequately.
May2016, Digital Output