Sunday, 31 July 2011

Recycled paper - the sustainable designers quick guide

The sustainable designers quick guide to  recycled paper. In the previous quick guide to paper there is information on virgin fibre paper, additives and coatings.  Here we'll focus on recycled paper.

According to the United States EPA production of recycled paper causes 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than making virgin paper.
It also stops trees being cut down.  However due to the de-inking process it can result in waste sludge of around 20% by weight of the paper being recycled (check out the quick guide to ink for more info on de-inking).

Paper content
Recycled paper is made from either pre-consumer waste or post-consumer waste and may also include a percentage of virgin wood fibre.
Pre-consumer waste content is waste fibre from paper mills that never reached the consumer (cut offs, rejects, etc.)
Post-consumer waste content is the fibre that is made from recycled office and home waste.
*Post-consumer waste content is considered better than pre-consumer because it is more likely to end up in landfills if it is not reused.
- Grades of waste paper 
- Grades of pulp and paper

Sometimes post-consumer waste recycled paper has slightly more small specks in the paper than virgin sheets. This is due to the recycling and de-inking process and the type of ink that was on the waste paper.
Recycled papers may be a point or two lower in brightness than their virgin paper counterparts. However, recycled papers generally have higher opacity (which means they are harder to see through), often considered an asset, especially for double-sided printing.
Designers can save on paper by using a thinner, less expensive sheet if it has more opacity. Using a thinner sheet can also save on mailing costs.
If your print job has 100% ink coverage then the slightly less bright recycled paper will not effect the finished product.

One of the factors that effects brightness is how paper is bleached. Here I'll go into the process in more detail and the various end-options that you can choose from when selecting paper.

Chlorine bleaching and Chlorine-free Paper
Chlorine bleaching is used to give paper its bright white colour. It can also have a negative effect on the environment. When chlorine is used to bleach paper the process can also result in the formation of harmful chemicals such as dioxins and furans, which are known to cause cancer in humans.
Other options for bleaching paper are available to the paper industry and these include oxygen bleaching. The safest paper bleaching processes are totally chlorine-free (TCF) or processed chlorine-free (PCF).

Here are brief explanations and some common logos (depending on where you live):

Totally chlorine-free (TCF): Virgin paper produced without chlorine or chlorine derivatives (the bleaching process uses oxygen-based compounds).

Processed chlorine-free (PCF): Contains recycled content produced without elemental chlorine or chlorine derivatives, although one or more fibre components may have originally been bleached with chlorine or chlorine derivatives. Any virgin pulp is TCF.

Elemental chlorine-free (Traditional ECF): Replaces elemental chlorine with chlorine dioxide in the bleaching process.

Enhanced ECF (ECF with extended or oxygen delignification): Removes more of the lignin from the wood before bleaching, thus reducing energy and chemical use during bleaching (the final stage uses chlorine dioxide).

Enhanced ECF with ozone or hydrogen peroxide: In addition to removing more of the lignin from the wood before bleaching, substitutes ozone or hydrogen peroxide for chlorine or chlorine dioxides as a brightening agent in the initial stages of the bleaching process (the final or near-final stage uses chlorine dioxide).

Which Chlorine Free Paper is best?
So on the basis of environmental criteria the best paper to get is:

  1. PCF (because product includes recycled content)
  2. TCF (TCF is used only to refer to 100 percent virgin paper)
  3. Enhanced ECF with ozone or hydrogen peroxide
  4. Enhanced ECF (ECF with extended or oxygen delignification)
  5. Traditional ECF

To find out more about chlorine free products go to:
Natural Resources Defense Council
The Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA)
Environmentally responsible printing

Sustainable forestry management
In addition to recycled paper there are also certifications that can be applied to paper obtained from sustainable forests.  The two main certification programs are:
PEFC Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification
FSC Forest Stewardship Council
Depending on which country you live in, there are various logos to signify sustainable forestry management.

Carbon Neutral Production
A product or company that have had their carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions calculated, reduced and offset with credits from fund renewable, emission free energy products can be verified as carbon neutral.
Increasingly companies are becoming carbon neutral by buying credits from carbon offset schemes to become sustainable. Various standards and certification exist for different countries.  Here are a few common logos for carbon neutral products.

In addition to these varieties of recycled paper, there is also acid-free paper and the various additives (sizing) and coatings.  These are covered in the sustainable designers quick guide to paper.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Paper - the sustainable designers quick guide

The sustainable designers quick guide to paper. Here is a concise list of what's in paper and the coatings we use, and how sustainable it is. Use this guide as a starting point to make up your own mind about what paper and coatings to use.

Paper Facts:

  • Paper is predominately made from wood fibre which comes from trees.
  • 3 to 6 billion trees are cut down per year.
  • The paper industry is the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
  • About 35% of municipal solid waste (before recycling) by weight is paper and paper products.

There are two main paper making processes

  • groundwood mechanical process (newsprint, telephone directories)
  • kraft chemical pulping process (office copy paper, offset paper, cards) which is about half as efficient as the groundwood process (uses twice as many trees for same about of paper)

Coated "glossy" paper
Clay or chalk coatings are used in the kraft chemical process.  This is between 10-30% of the thickness of the paper. The clay gives it the glossy surface and is great to print on. Clay composts well.
Clay does not recycle well - it must be removed before paper is recycled. It can clog recycling machines however the clay does help to remove ink from paper fibres. Clay is obtained by open pit mining.

Paper additives
"Sizing" is added to make paper more water resistant.  Sizing can be starch, polymer or rosin. This is used in all paper but in large amounts in packaging and frozen food products.

Starch is also used to add stiffness and strength to paper.  It is obtained from starchy crops and the waste of some food crops. It composts well and can be easily removed during recycling.

Polymer is used to add "wet strength" this makes paper stronger even when it is wet. Photographic paper, filters, paper towels and food containers can all have added polymers. These compost slowly however due to their water repelling properties may add difficulty in the paper recycling process. Most of these polymers are manufactured from crude oil.

Acid free paper
Acid free paper is paper with a neutral pH.  Manufacturing acid free paper helps preserve the paper as acid rich paper goes yellow and breaks down over time.
The paper is usually treated with calcium bicarbonate to neutralise natural acids in the wood. Pine trees tend to be more acidic.
Most commercial paper is acid free.  This is the result of using chalk rather than china clay as the main filler. All sizing agents, inks and finishes should also be acid free.
Alkaline paper has a very long live expectancy, the manufacturing waste is more environmentally friendly and the paper is more easily recycled.

Bleaching agents are used to increase the brightness and make paper whiter. Bleaching uses chemical agents such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium dithionite and chlorine. Conventional bleaching using elemental chlorine produces and releases into the environment large amounts of chlorinated organic compounds, including chlorinated dioxins which are toxic. Many modern manufactures use ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free) and TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) bleaching processes to reduce the release of chlorinated organic compounds.  Look for TCF if using virgin wood paper or PCF is the paper includes recycled content (check out the quick guide to recycled paper for more info).

UV coatings
These are applied over the ink and dried by exposure to UV light. They have a high gloss and can be applied to spot locations and in very thin films. They provide a strong UV protection to the underlying ink and provide water resistant properties.
UV coatings are usually made of acrylic polymers that are manufactured using highly toxic substances. Some UV coatings are made from soybean oil rather than crude oil. UV coatings are not easily recycled and in landfills they are not readily biodegradable.

Plastic lamination
Celloglaze is a super thin laminate film which is lightweight and flexible and is stuck to the paper using both heat and pressure. Celloglazing or plastic lamination can be matt or gloss and can be single sided or double sided. Celloglaze is not recyclable and not readily biodegradable.

Varnish is a press coating - that means that during offset printing it is printed just like a process or spot colour. Varnish is basically ink without the pigment.  Like UV coatings these can be applied to spot locations. Varnish has the same effect on paper recycling as ink and can be handled by all paper recycling systems. Varnish does not work well on uncoated paper.

Aqueous coating
Aqueous coating is more environmentally friendly than UV coating because it is water based even though they are still generally made from acrylic polymers. Aqueous coatings do not seep into the press sheet as much as varnish and does not crack or scuff easily. Aqueous does, however, cost a lot more than varnish.
Aqueous coating is generally laid down in a single layer (like celloglaze) not to localised spot locations like varnish. Aqueous comes in gloss, dull, and satin.

Recycled paper
Recycled paper is made from either pre-consumer waste (waste fibre from paper mills that never reached the consumer) or post-consumer waste (the fibre that is made from recycled office and home waste).
Post-consumer waste content is considered better than pre-consumer because it is more likely to end up in landfills if it is not reused.
Check out the sustainable designers quick guide to recycled paper for more information.

Tree free paper
Tree free paper can be made from:
  • Agricultural residue (sugar cane)
  • Fiber crops (hemp, kenaf, jute, flax)
  • Textile wastes (a small percentage)
  • Wild plants (Sisal, bamboo)
  • Specialist papers (elephant dung)
Tree free paper accounts for a very small amount of total paper production. Problems associated with tree free paper are that if it doesn't use crop byproducts it could lead to de-forestation of native rainforest just to grow these crops.

Multi-laminates are used for packaging and cartons and are also called aseptics, brick pack or tetra paks. They have a complex layer structure composed of plastic polymer (20%), aluminium foil (4%) and paper fibre (75%).  They are usually used for food packaging as they are water proof, strong and have a good shelf-life.  Due to the plastic polymers and foil they are not readily compostable.  Special equipment is needed to separate and recycle the fibre layers.  The paper layer in laminates is made from strong, high-quality virgin fibre. Because of this, tissue mills are the top customer for recovered laminates, since tissue must be made of strong fibre to meet necessary performance characteristics.

Waxed paper and cardboard
Waxed paper provides water repellant properties and is used for food and drink containers however due to problems with the wax affecting recycling plants these papers are generally not recycled.  Wax paper will compost well.

For additional information on paper packaging and sustainability download this 66 page pdf from

Check out the sustainable designers quick guide to recycled paper for more information about recycled paper, chlorine-free paper and sustainable forestry practices.

Stay tuned for the sustainable designers quick guide to ink & adhesives coming soon.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Tips for sustainable graphic design

Here is a list of quick tips to start thinking about creating sustainable alternatives in our designs.  These subjects will be elaborated on in future posts but are a good place to start a sustainable mindset.

Quick tips for sustainable graphic design:
Choose the best medium to satisfy the client, the brief and sustainability.

Consider multipurpose products ie. the brochure-poster or flyer-envelope approach.

Source sustainable alternatives for materials ie. paper, ink, glue, binding methods.

Email proofs as electronic pdfs to clients.

Double-sided proof prints from the office printer.  Reduces paper use by 50%.

Packaging re-design to use less to achieve the same product.

Blank page removal, whitespace reduction and font size reduction to reduce paper use.

Print size and trim space optimisation.

Shelf life analysis of the final product to determine quality goals.

Disassembly - how easy is it to disassemble into the various recyclable components, in other words "practical recyclability".

Reusable components - reuse may be more energy efficient than full process recycling.

Analyse the disposal options of the material being used.

Online alternatives ie. websites, e-magazines, pdfs, emails, e-books.

Links between physical and online products using URLs and QR codes to maximise exposure.

Consider targeted mail versus mass mailing.

Assess print provider location to reduce transportation distances to the client.

Green power - choose print shops and web hosts hooked up to alternative energy supplies.

Life cycle analysis to find the best overall solutions.

Rental, leasing or service models instead of sell and dump for your products.

Waste minimisation audits to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Community impact assessments of your designs and products.

Include a sustainable option for each job.

Educate your clients.

Promote your sustainable credentials.

Carbon offset schemes.

Browse the archives in the right hand column to view more articles on sustainable graphic design.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Population growth and sustainability

This animation was created for MiND TV.  It's a great graphic example of how fast the worlds population has grown from 3 Billion in the 1960's to almost 7 billion today.  It explores how a growing world population affects food and water supplies and the ecological balance.

Some may argue with the projected statistics in this video, however the reality is that we, as the human race are more numerous than ever before.

Sustainability and sustainable practice in graphic design are an obvious step to reduce our impact on the environment.

The suggested first step in this video - reduce consumption and find sustainable solutions!

If you're motivated to make a change however small, then check out this post about the Design Can Change pledge.