Friday, March 27, 2015
Environmental management is something all businesses should bother with, but it’s such a wooly term. In a way it has to be vague because it means running your business to have the least negative environmental impact possible, and how do you define that? If you’re in the mining business your challenges will be rather different than if you are a florist. The graphic arts industry has equivalent extremes, from gravure printing that has to deal with very nasty chemicals, to digitally printing documents on demand, the producers of which give chemicals and their disposal barely a second thought. Environmental management in all cases is necessary and useful. Fortunately there are only two options we consider relevant for all graphic arts situations.
These are the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), developed by the European Commission and ISO 14001, the Environmental Management System standard. In many ways they are similar but both are established and recognised, with uptake across all manner of industries.
EMAS has been around for several years and is designed to help companies go beyond the bare minimum of legal compliance. It has much in common with ISO 14001, but has additional focus on legal compliance and getting people involved in environmental performance improvement. Like ISO 14001 it requires external validation of a company’s management system, however because ISO 14001 is an ISO standard, it tends to have more international credibility than EMAS.
Environmental management is increasingly important in many industries, although it has to be said that printing and publishing companies aren’t a big part of this cohort. But for printers especially, it’s a mistake to overlook the benefits environmental management systems can bring. Not least is the business efficiency improvements that come out of improved resource management. There is also the benefit of having a coherent environmental impact management structure for customer relations and supply chain management.
Choosing EMAS or ISO 14001 is a matter of what works best for the business. ISO 14001 is considered a stepping stone for EMAS so that there is no duplication of effort, if you already have ISO 14001 and want to gain EMAS certification. The main difference between the two is that EMAS tends to go a bit further in some areas such as legal compliance. There is also a heavier emphasis on performance improvement which is evaluated with an annual performance audit. ISO 14001 is more concerned to see improvements to the system itself, and that the company complies with the law but there is no specific legal compliance audit. Also ISO 14001 doesn’t include anything about public dialogue, unlike EMAS which requires open dialogue. The question isn’t really which of the two to choose, but when to make your choice. Sooner is better than later.
Monday, March 23, 2015
The idea of using rubbish to create energy goes back to the first bonfire, but only a handful of companies in the graphic arts industries seem to be paying much heed to using biomass. Toppan Printing has developed a laminated packaging material that contains around 10% of biomass and Toppan expect it to be commercially viable this year. Paarl Media, one of South Africa’s biggest publishing companies, has installed a biomass boiler at its Cape Town plant. It burns weeds and woodchips and uses the steam generated to power Paarl’s gravure presses.
Biomass uses biological material such as wood, manure or similar agricultural waste, to generate energy through combustion or as the waste biodegrades. As such it can be used to reduce carbon footprints, which is why the installed bioenergy capacity for electricity generation is growing. But by far our most favourite example of how technology is being used to exploit waste organic material, is the urinal developed for a British university working in cooperation with the international charity, Oxfam.
The University of the West of England has installed a very special pissoir at its Bristol campus. The urinal is loaded with microbes which feed on urine. Yum. Male staff and students are keenly providing the device with the necessary raw material for energy generation. The urine is used in a stack of microbial fuel cells (MFC) containing hungry bacteria.
The MFCs are an electrochemical system that produces electricity by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. Oxfam wanted the technology to provide lighting for toilet cubicles in refugee camps. However given the copious and widespread availability of the raw materials required for these MFCs to work, there is no limit to how this technology might be applied.
According to Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre. an MFC “taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts [it] directly into electricity - what we are calling urine-tricity or pee power. This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilise fossil fuels and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply.”
Printers and publishers might be inclined to convert more space to urinals and provide unlimited free drinks for staff. They might even open up their conveniences to male members of the public, to maximise opportunities for raw material collection. The only difficulty with the technology in its present form is that in practical terms it is inherently sexist. The current generation depends on male input to delivery the raw material to the MFCs, so we really need an additional option better suited to the female form. Consequently, we hope to see developers making more of a splash shortly.
Monday, March 23, 2015
The 13th April is an important deadline. It’s the day when a key exemption in the European Union (EU)’s Regulation on Hazardous Substance II (RoHS II) no longer applies. The ramifications for the graphic arts industry worldwide could be serious, eventually.
RoHS II “lays down rules on the restriction of the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), with a view to contributing to the protection of human health and the environment”. The objective is primarily to reduce energy usage and mitigate risks to health and safety from various substances, including mercury. Mercury is used in lamps for curing UV inks as well as for streetlighting and related applications. 2017 will be the last year we can expect to see mercury lamps in lighting applications, but when it comes to curing applications the picture is murkier.
Mercury arc lamps use intense light that interacts with photoinitiators in UV curable inks. The photoinitiators fragment which initiates polymerisation to create a dry and durable surface. The output spectrum of a mercury arc lamp includes near infrared light which adds heat to the process so that curing takes place more quickly. One alternative to UV cured inks is solvent inks which pose more of a health and environmental hazard. From the EU’s perspective this makes UV curing inks a preferable alternative to solvents; this will probably help their case when it comes to the RoSH II ban. According to our EU contact if “a product containing more than 0.1% Hg [mercury] by weight is installed before April, it is allowed and it can have replacement Hg arc lamps into the future until it reaches end of life.” That’s good news, at least for as long as manufacturers keep making mercury arc lamps.
The graphic arts is not going to lose its mercury arc lamps just yet, despite the expiration of the RoHS II exemption. These lamps will still be available for existing kit, and technologists are working hard on next generation technologies. When it comes to regulatory compliance we can expect to see either a replacement technology or a progress with existing approaches, such that mercury isn’t a problem. Fiddling with the wavelengths a lamp outputs and modifying the materials inside it is a delicate business, but it could be a path forward. LEDs are another option, but LEDs have limitations of their own especially when it comes to curing speed. As far as RoSH II goes, the industry still has time to wait for LED curing to get faster and more effective, but slowly the clock is ticking.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Packaging is necessary for pretty much all supply chains. It protects and preserves goods, makes them easier to handle and is a way of tempting buyers to make a purchase. Packaging’s also an effective vehicle for content and ingredient information, as well as regulatory compliance data. This includes health and safety facts, plus certifications and recycling information. All of this can either be on the package itself or on a label or two. This makes a package an extremely powerful primary communicator, at least for as long as it still contains its contents. This can be for years in the case of Fast Moving Consumer Goods that take forever to use up. Think shampoo and conditioner clutter, and exotic canned soups that seemed like a good idea at the time.
But most packaging doesn’t have a particularly long lifespan. Once its useful life is over, packaging’s mostly discarded. Supply chains for recycling glass and plastics are getting better in developed markets, but there is still more we should be doing, if we are to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and increase reuse. We need to be smarter about using packaging resources more cleverly, for instance as raw materials for other products. Carlsberg has set up an ambitious long term project to do just that (see last week’s blog), however all companies can do their bit.
It starts with being aware that we can make packages out of different materials, and with changing how we think. We need to move away from a consumptive mindset, expecting raw materials to come uniquely from virgin materials. This is increasingly out of step with environmental thinking, but it’s only a weeny part of solving the problem. Technology to use of waste materials to create new products is as important. The textile industry has established supply chains for making new products from recycled PET and cotton fibres, and the printing and publishing industries are brilliant at creating new substrates from recycled paper and cotton. So what more can be done to improve the recyclability of packaging?
For a start we can raise awareness amongst consumers. This could be a value add for brands actively involved in environmental protection, such as the UK’s Marks & Spencer or Walmart in the US. We can encourage packaging print buyers to opt for RPET (Recycled Polyethelyne) plastics instead of virgin PET, and recycled paper substrates. Supply chain development is key to leveraging simple awareness amongst consumers: if packaging recycling is more convenient, more of it can happen. Routes to turning waste into new raw material materials must be simpler and less resource intense, and we should all be thinking holistically. One man’s waste is another’s raw material and this provides all sorts of exciting possibilites for new packaging product designs based on what would otherwise be waste .