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Alternative ink

Inaccuracies in communication sometimes called ‘greenwashing’ is a significant problem when using alternative inks.

Uses inks that use a base made of soy or vegetable oil, rather than petroleum. 

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Uses inks that use a base made of soy or vegetable oil, rather than petroleum. 

Definition

Inks are used to print images onto packaging using either the flexographic, lithographic or offset printing methods

All types of printing inks are made of pigment of colour, a binder (the base) to adhere the pigment to the printing surface and a solvent to spread the ink over the desired area. Some additives are also added to give the ink durability.

In recent years, different types of oils (other than petroleum) have been tested as ink bases. Sunflower, soy, linseed, safflower and canola, just to name a few. It’s worth noting that these raw materials need to pass through a range of labour and carbon-intense processes to become usable.

During the printing process, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released by solvents, imposing a potential health risk.

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Why you should use alternative inks

Alternative inks can lower the carbon footprint [1]  associated with the production and use of raw materials.

Alternative inks can also remove toxicity problems during the printing process. Vegetable inks contain significantly (up to 80%) fewer solvents, and can be cured by UV light. This means less carcinogenic solvents are added to the inks and less VOCs are emitted during the process, in turn minimising health risks and Co2 emission.

Depending on the materials used, alternative inks can significantly increase a product’s compostability, but also it’s recyclability and biodegradability.

Soy crops require little irrigation, limited nutrients and leave fewer agricultural residues compared to other vegetable crops.

As soybean oil is clearer than petroleum oil, less pigment is needed to the same effect and naturally have a more vibrant appearance.

Vegetable-based inks tend to cover a larger amount of area than the same amount of petroleum-based ink (approximately 15% further), thus reducing ink use and printer cleaning costs.

Why you shouldn’t use alternative inks

Some soy or vegetable-based inks contain substantial amounts of petroleum. In order for ink to use the American Soy Association’s Soy Seal logo, it can contain as little as 7% soy (depending on the product), the rest being a petroleum derivative.

Documenting percentages of soy and petroleum-derivatives in ink is done at the discretion of the manufacturer and difficult to keep track of.

Oil (be it soy, vegetable or petroleum-based) is just one of many elements in all types of ink. Pigments (colours) are notoriously difficult to find without mineral (fossil fuel) oil in them.

As the demand for more soy grows, more rainforests are being cleared to make way for soy crops. Soy cultivation is a leading cause of deforestation, an environmental problem in its own right, and therefore also contributing to substantial greenhouse gas emissions.

Since alternative inks contain less VOC due to the lack of solvents, this means UV lights need to be used to speed up the natural drying process, and thus more energy consumed.

Packhelp and Alternative inks

While even plant-based inks contain some petroleum-based products in the ink, the amount is negligible as it is borderline immeasurable. All Packhelp’s alternative inks adhere to ISO 16758 [2]

Frequently asked questions:

Petroleum-based products in your ink make it harder for the product to be recycled, composted or biodegrade. Plant-based inks used on biodegradable or compostable products leave no residue. While even plant-based inks contain some petroleum-based products in the ink, the amount is negligible as it is borderline immeasurable.

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