Deinking Myths & Magic

medium_Laurel_2012.jpegThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Let’s be clear: consumers don’t care about how materials get recycled, as long as they can be recycled. The important point for all of us in the printing industry is that anything corrosive to the credibility of printed paper recycling undermines the industry’s longterm survival. Challenging the recyclability of digital prints damages the credibility of print’s sustainability, in every sense of the word.

Paper recycling is obviously helping print towards an ever lower environmental impact. However as the mix of substrates, inks and toners changes, conventional deinking methods are coming under pressure. New technologies are required to process the diversity of printed papers entering recycling supply chains. This is the difficulty at the heart of the squabble between representatives of the deinking industry and large manufacturers, especially those of digital presses. The squabble boils down to a problem of technology and method.

Deinking plants basically wash printers’ waste papers and consumers used prints in order to remove the colourants. For offset inks and toners removed to produce low grade pulp, for instance for newsprint, the process is established, proven and profitable. But the industry is changing. Now we have ever higher volumes of prints carrying more recent ink and toner technologies, entering the waste stream and destined for recycling plants. This includes liquid toners, UV cured inks, conventional flexo inks and water based inks. All of these require more robust deinking technologies than are used for offset and dry toners. Ink chemistries are changing continuously, along with substrates, and the volume of digital print entering recycled pulp supply chains is rising. This need for new deinking technologies cannot be denied.

There are fortunately new recycling plants being built to produce pulp suitable for high quality paper manufacture as well as newsprint. Such plants are leading the way for the future of our industry. They support the increasing need for high quality substrates produced with recycled raw materials, suitable for both digital and conventional printing. They can deink pretty much anything including digital prints. The point here is that fear mongering to contest the deinkability of digital prints et al is misplaced.

With the right technology deinking of digital, flexo and UV cured inks is possible, although it might not be profitable. The industry should recognise that confusing the market with erroneous arguments about the deinkability of digital prints undermines the credibility of print’s sustainability. It gives consumers a reason to question the environmental impact of digital printing and to turn away from it. This cannot under any circumstances be good for the printing industry. It’s time to argue not about what can’t be done, but about what can.

– Laurel Brunner

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