Deinking Drama

medium_Laurel_2012.jpegThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

It seems we rather hit a nerve with last week’s blog which isn’t so very surprising. That’s the trouble with blogging: not much room to develop an argument or adequately cover all sides of a problem. The blog’s purpose had been to highlight the dangers of denigrating digital printing on the basis that it isn’t deinkable. The fact that some print is suitable for most recycling processes and some very isn’t, is too nuanced for most media consumers. Consumers tend to look for guiltfree convenience and as a rule don’t appreciate the differences of imaging technologies and inks.

But maybe we should give consumers and print buyers more credit, or at least encourage them to think more? After all this is a collective problem, and not just the concern of the ink manufacturers, recyclers or paper makers. There is much to be positive about too: there is no problem with removing toners from digital prints which can be deinked alongside offset prints. And developers are constantly working to improve deinkability.

More could be done with positive communication. The new Digital Printing Deinking Alliance website (www.thedpda.org) will help educate the market and provide a means of sharing new ideas. Manufacturers marketing departments could also be making more noise about work being done to improve print’s recyclability. We have a collective responsibility because in the end the claim that some digital prints cannot be recycled damages all forms of print, including digital.

Maybe the problem is economic rather than technological? If companies are willing to invest in deinking technologies and people are prepared to pay a premium for recycled papers based on raw materials sourced from inkjet and liquid toner papers, there is no problem. More state of the art recycling plants will come on line to process rising volumes as long as consumers are happy to pay the price. Eventually the cost of processing the material should fall in line with the basic rules of supply and demand. In the meantime we may be in a situation where pulp plants are waiting for digital press and ink manufacturers to make their prints totally deinkable, while said manufacturers hope to see more investment in state of the art recycling plants. Not good.

Deinking is ripe for invention and innovation. Its current limitations are leading the market towards a new future. Hopefully it will be one where all forms of print can be successfully deinked. If not, the future for printed matter looks bleak indeed.

– Laurel Brunner

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