Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Recycled Design brings light to the worlds poorest communities

This is a great video that shows how the solar bottle-bulbs are being used in the Philippines. Although not graphic design - this shows how lateral thinking and the use of available resources can be used to create something that is cost efficient, sustainable and improves peoples lives.

It's a simple solution that uses recycled materials and the refractive properties of water. Apparently this was designed and developed by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

If you're interested, here's a link to a high quality image that shows instructions to make your own!!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Green Packaging Design

Packaging is the one area where reduction of materials and a switch to more sustainable and recycled products is easy and cost effective.
This short video from Dell, the electronic manufacturer shows how they can re-design with sustainability in mind.

Dell embraces the three C's concept:
  • Cube - making the packaging smaller
  • Content - using sustainable or recycled materials
  • Curb - making package disposal as easy as throwing it into the recycling bin for curb-side collection

Does your packaging embrace the three C's?

If you're interested about sustainable packaging design, check out the PUMA Shoebox Sustainable Packaging Redesign.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Soy based inks introduction video

Here's a quick video that gives you an introduction about soy based inks.  It gives a quick explanation of why petroleum based inks became popular, and how the move to a more sustainable ink is beneficial to the printing process as well as the environment.

This information is covered in more depth if you check out the sustainable graphic design quick guide to inks. There's also some great information about the de-inking process at the bottom of the quick guide to inks.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Plastic - the sustainable designers quick guide

In the sustainable quick guide to plastics we'll look at the various types of plastic, the uses, identification codes and recyclability and at the end there is a brief summary of Bioplastics.

Most plastics can be recycled however there are a number of barriers to recycling.
During the recycling process the various types of plastics need to be separated, this is where clear marking and not mixing multiple types of plastic in one product are very important.
The other main barrier is getting the end-user to sort the waste into recycle bins and to have recycling facilities available to accept and process the waste.
In most countries plastic recycling rates are still very low, the best systems still only recycle 27% of all plastics.

Plastic Types:

PET - Polyethylene terephthalate
Used for: Drinks bottles, food jars, sauce bottles
Properties: Clear, strong, water and gas resistant
Recyclable: Most popular type of plastic to recycle, many countries have a good system to recycle PET plastic
PE-HD (HDPE) - High-density polyethylene
Used for: Drinks bottles, liquid soap, cleaning products, household buckets
Properties: Slightly opaque, stiff, strong, water resistant
Recyclable: Very popular type of plastic to recycle, many countries have a good system to recycle HDPE plastic

PVC - Polyvinyl chloride
Used for: Blister or clam packs, cling films (non-food grade), water pipes
Properties: Strong, tough, water resistant, versatile, easy to glue or heat seal
Recyclable: PVC is not as commonly recycled as type 01 or 02 plastics. In many places this is disposed of in landfills.

PE-LD (LDPE) - Low-density polyethylene
Used for: Food bags, squeezy bottles, food films, flexible containers
Properties: Flexible, water resistant, easy to heat seal, tough
Recyclable: Wrappers and bags are not usually removed from the waste stream.  Films and bags are less likely to have the recycle logo on it.

PP - Polypropylene
Used for: Yogurt & Margarine tubs, take-away containers
Properties: Strong, moderately flexible; heat, oil and water resistant
Recyclable: Depending on the size of the products, PP plastic may not be easily isolated and recycled.

PS - Polystyrene
Uses: Take-away containers, thin plastic food containers (eggs), party cups
Properties: Clear, easy to mold, thin wall thickness
Recyclable: Depending on the size of the products, PS plastic may not be easily isolated and recycled.

EPS - Expanded Polystyrene

Uses: Insulated containers, cold storage boxes, packaging
Properties: Lightweight, easy to mold, thermal barrier, shock absorption 
Recyclable: EPS is 98% air and can be reused into other products or broken down into General Purpose Polystyrene (GPPS) pellets.  EPS is not as commonly recycled as type 01 or 02 plastics. 

O - Other
Polycarbonate, ABS plastic and other combination of polymers.
Polycarbonate is used for clear, hardwearing items such as glass replacements in lenses and lamps.
Recyclable: Due to the mixture of compounds these plastic types are hard to recycle and are not generally recycled.

Bioplastics are derived from plant-based oils rather than petroleum-based. Some bioplastics are biodegradable but not all.
The most popular bioplastic is starch-based.  These can use a number of renewable plants/vegetables for the basic manufacturing materials.
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a transparent plastic produced from cane sugar or glucose. It is very similar in to PE or PP.  This has given rise to problems in the recycling of PE and PP plastics as they will be contaminated if PLA is introduced into the waste stream.

The sustainable graphic design blog will cover Bioplastics in more depth in another article.

If you're interested in sustainable options, check out the sustainable graphic design quick guides here.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Going Digital - is it more sustainable than print?

If you're a regular to this blog then you'll know that the paper industry is a big contributor to CO2 emissions, uses huge quantities of water and has petroleum inputs all along the product life-cycle.  It would seem that going digital is the sustainable option; Websites, eBooks and digital magazines don't use paper - Bingo problem solved!

But is that all there is to this equation?

Is buying and reading a magazine, newspaper or book more of less energy efficient than accessing the same information online?

To answer this we would need to do a full LCA (life cycle analysis) so let me throw a few general questions out there for you to consider:

  • How many articles are read on an electronic device before it's disposed of?
  • What percentage of a newspaper is actually read?
  • How recyclable are tablets, eBook readers and computers? And what are their usable life span?
  • How do newspapers and magazines add up in terms of recyclability and transport miles? 
  • What heavy metals and toxic byproducts come from electronic goods?
  • What is the impact of forestry, paper making, and ink production?
  • What about the data centres that host the online versions; the aircon costs and the equipment?
  • Can print on demand at regional centres reduce waste and transport costs?

Not so simple after all.. many competing factors, complex relationships and lack of information.

Case study:
Over at the guardian newspaper in the UK they are asking a similar question.  They acknowledge climate change and the economic, social and environmental challenges ahead, and are exploring their environmental footprint.
In response they have started a two year academic study to look at various scenarios know as the Sympact project. For more info - check out the this link.

This doesn't get us any closer to answering the question, "Is digital more sustainable?" so let's make some sweeping assumptions and try and draw some sort of conclusion (un-scentifically).

  • People will have computers and tablets whether I/you publish online or not. The contribution of my/your publication to the environmental cost of electronic manufacture and disposal is nearly negligible.
  • Using virgin-wood paper, petroleum ink, transporting newsprint miles and dumping in landfills is not the most sustainable option.
  • Using post-consumer recycled paper, vegetable-based ink and regional printing with household recycling pickups is more sustainable than the previous option.

Looks like digital publishing is more sustainable if you pass the blame of production, use and disposal of all the electronic stuff onto "someone else".  The question we now have to ask is - who picks up the environmental tab for all this electronic stuff?

Find out more about the story of stuff here.
If you're interested in the sustainability of paper, ink or glue check out the sustainable graphic design quick guides here.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Sustainable Packaging Redesign fuseproject and PUMA

Here's a great video of how Yves Behar of fuseproject and PUMA re-designed the shoebox.

They spent 21 months | 2,000 ideas | 40+ prototypes

The result:
  • 65% reduction in cardboard use
  • using no tissue will save 8500 tons of paper and 1 million litres of water
  • reduce CO2 by 10,000 tons
  • 275 tons of plastic will also be saved

If you've read the sustainable designers quick guide to glues then you'll know that sometimes no-glue is best.

Check out fuseproject's neat no-glue design for the inside box:

To see more images follow this link over to fuseproject.com

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Glue - the sustainable designers quick guide

The sustainable designers quick guide to glue and adhesives.
There are a huge variety of adhesives and glues available, in this guide we'll concentrate on the most commonly used glues for paper and packaging and hopefully it will be a springboard for your own investigation into the glues you'll consider using. Check out the sustainable adhesive options at the bottom and the introduction to no-glue alternatives.

Essentially we can subdivide glues into synthetic and naturally derived, and into reactive and non-reactive. For more details of the history and different properties of glues check this link.

The main environmental impacts from glues are the:

  • solvent and gas emissions derived from the production and curing process 
  • biodegradability of the disposed product 
  • renewability of the material the glue was manufactured from

PVA glue
PVA is a white glue which is an emulsion of polyvinyl acetate in water.  This synthetic polymer sticks porous materials like paper and wood as the water evaporates leaving behind the PVA polymer. It forms transparent films that are resistant to organic solvents, oil and grease and impermeable to most natural gases. PVA can be made a neutral pH to increase the lifespan of books and papers. PVA is nontoxic to humans however it does release toxic fumes if burned. PVA is biodegradable.  PVA glue is a synthetic polymer manufactured from products generated by the petrochemical industry.

Synthetic Resin glue (one part epoxy)
Clear glue in a tube that has a strong solvent smell (ie. Multipurpose, UHU or GOOP) you don't have to mix it with anything. You may find them marketed as different products to bond different materials however they are all essentially the same although some may be thinner for precise application, thicker for non-drip/vertical application, or with added UV resistance and added colour.
They bond to metals, glass, some rubber and plastics, ceramics, paper, wood, leather, vinyl, canvas, masonry, concrete. They dry clear and are waterproof, acid free and slightly flexible.
Synthetic Resin glues give off solvents as they are curing and are irritating to eyes and skin. These glues are toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. All of these products are made from petrochemicals.

Two-part epoxy glue
These glues require two parts to be mixed together, an epoxide resin and a hardener.
They can be used on paper, card, wood, metal, glass, stone, and some plastics. Epoxy adhesives are better in heat and chemical resistance than other common adhesives.
They can be made flexible or rigid, transparent or coloured, and have various setting times.
The main hazard is allergic reaction to the hardener and can cause occupational asthma.  Some chemical compounds in the epoxy resin can cause cancer and developmental disorders in animals and humans as they are endocrine disruptors.
Almost all of these products are made from petrochemicals however some manufacturers have made epoxy that includes natural wood resins.

Latex-based glue (rubber cement and contact adhesive)
Latex-based adhesives are used to glue fabric, carpets and flexible porous objects. They can also be used as removable adhesives on non-porous surfaces.  Latex glues are formed from natural latex (rubber trees) or synthetic latex. They are mixed in a solvent to keep them fluid, this is generally acetone, hexane or heptane.  There is also a type of latex-based glue that is water-based (Copydex in the UK). These solvents evaporate leaving behind the rubber.
Latex-based glues do not work well in very cold conditions and can cause discolouration to light fabrics and paper. Natural latex glue is generally not as durable as other adhesives however it is very flexible. Natural latex is biodegradable and is naturally resistant to mold, mildew and bacteria.   Some people have an allergic reaction to natural latex.  Synthetic latex is created from oil-derivatives of the petrochemical industry, it forms a stronger bond and is hypoallergenic.
The solvents in these glues are produced from the petrochemical industry and can be hazardous if inhaled, they are also highly flammable. These solvents can damage some plastics and other polished surfaces.

Superglue, cyanoacrylate or CA glue is a fast bonding adhesive that forms strong but brittle bonds.  It bonds skin and other organic and porous materials very well and is water resistant.   These glues contain solvents such as methyl alcohol to keep them in a liquid form. The fumes can irritate eyes, nose and throat and skin. CA glue is made from formaldehyde plus products from the petrochemical industry.

PVC plastic cement
PVC plastic cement is used to bond PVC plastic together.  It doesn't bond any other type of material or plastic. Essentially it provides a chemical weld between the two PVC plastic surfaces.  This works because the cement is actually a solvent that dissolves the PVC surfaces that it is in contact with. As the solvent evaporates the PVC plastic hardens and both surfaces are bonded together. The main hazard is inhalation of the vapour as it evaporates. The solvent is a product of the petrochemical industry.

Animal-based glue
Animal product based glue or horse glue is not commonly used except for speciality trades such as musical instrument repair and traditional cabinet carpentry. It is brittle and requires heating before application. It is biodegradable and from a renewable source.

Heat-seal adhesives
Another alternative to "cold glue" is heat-seal adhesives.  These are thermoplastics that are coated onto the surfaces and then activated by heat and pressure.  These adhesives don't change chemically but bond together due to heat.  Heat-seal adhesives can be solvent or water-based that are applied as liquid coatings. Some heat-sealing adhesives can also be applied as a hot melt coating via gravure, slotted die, or extrusion processes. The heat-seal process can be run on high speed production lines and is common for packaging.  An example of a heat-seal adhesive is Vinyl Acetate Acrylic Copolymer in a water based solution - a product of the petrochemical industry.

Sustainable Adhesive Options
The most sustainable options for adhesives involve using water-based emulsions or aqueous, latex-based or starch-based glues.  These are usually solvent-free alternatives. Solvent-less adhesives have been shown to emit 75% less CO2 and use 80% less energy than solvent-based adhesives.
Various adhesive manufacturers make sustainable options for both cold-seal and heat-seal adhesives.
No Glue Alternatives
The most ecological and sustainable designs are those that use no glue at all!  There is a lot of great design work happening for packaging that redesigns the need for glue. When was the last time you found your pizza box was glued together? This also saves on production costs.  Stay tuned to this blog for examples of designs that have out-designed the glue!

If you're interested in the sustainable options for paper, recycled paper or ink then check out the other quick guides in this series.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Sustainability, Peak Oil & Graphic Design

As mentioned previously, peak oil is one of the three major factors that will affect our future.
Below is a great video animation that introduces the products of the oil industry and the concept of peak oil.
(this peak oil chart comes from a great infographic you can view here)

Notice how lots of the products we print, design and market are made with oil, powered by oil and transported with oil.
If you want to find out more, just do a google search on "peak oil" and you'll get heaps of info.
For information about what you can do to minimise the effect of peak oil then check out the other posts in this blog and the quick guides to paper, ink and glue - all available on the right hand panel.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Inks - the sustainable designers quick guide

In this quick guide to inks we'll cover the toxic and environmental impacts of inks and the various alternatives available. At the end there's a quick summary of inks that don't deink - important information that may change your choice of printing!

Traditionally inks used in the professional printing industry have been petroleum-based.  These were introduced in the 1960's as they dried a lot quicker than vegetable-based inks. These petroleum-based inks enabled printers to run jobs faster and increase overall productivity.

Three main environmental issues with petroleum-based ink are:
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Heavy metals
  • Non-renewable oils
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs  - enable the ink to dry very quickly.  Many VOCs are dangerous to human health or cause harm to the environment. Due to these hazards VOC exposure is regulated in the workplace.  Inks do not necessarily give off their entire VOC content. In lithographic inks, very little of the ink oil used actually evaporates. Petroleum-based inks contain 30-35 percent VOCs.

Heavy Metals - are found in the pigments of some inks. Barium, copper and zinc can be found in some pigments. They are most often found in metallic inks that are green, orange or opaque yellow. Heavy metals are toxic and sometimes carcinogenic and do not biodegrade.  Instead they can leach into soil and groundwater from landfill sites and cause major problems to rivers and groundwater supplies.

Non-renewable oils
Petroleum-based inks are based on a non-renewable resource.  We can't grow more petroleum or crude oil. Check the sustainable graphic design blog from more information on the impacts of oil use and the phenomenon of peak oil. All good reasons to reduce our reliance on petroleum-based products.

Vegetable-based inks
Both soy and vegetable inks are made from renewable plant material and can help reduce VOC emissions. Soybean oil-based inks range from 2-5 percent VOC. One major problem with soy ink is that it takes more time to dry than petroleum-based inks, due to its lack of evaporative solvents in the form of VOCs.
The term "soy-ink" does not necessarily mean that the ink is 100% soybean oil. In fact, inks may contain only minimal amounts of soybean oil and still be marketed as a "soy-ink".  Printing ink manufacturers in the US can use a SoySeal® logo with various percentages of soil depending on the type of ink. See here for the percentages of soy in the ink.
Here's a link to the SoySeal logo.

Soy ink is primarily used in lithographic printing processes, including newspapers, books and magazines. Coloured soy inks have penetrated the market at a faster rate than black soy inks. The reason being that petroleum is dark, while soybean oil is relatively clear in colour (see above photo of the really dark petroleum-based oil). This allows the pigment to be seen more readily and results in brighter colours. A more visible colour enables a given amount of soy ink to produce more impressions than the same amount of petroleum ink, which translates into a 5-50 percent increase in transfer efficiency.

Soy inks are more biodegradable than petroleum inks. As the percentage of soybean oil increases in an ink formulation, biodegradability increases.  The total amount of ink makes up less than 1% of the paper waste however the deinking process produces a sludge waste of about 20% of the paper mixture when paper fibre is recycled.

Currently black soy inks are priced higher than petroleum inks. However in coloured inks, pigments are by far the most expensive component. Coloured soy inks are competitively priced with petroleum-based coloured inks.

Read more about biochemicals and in particular soy inks by downloading this pdf from pneac.org.

Soy What?
Here's a simple infographic from christineparkdesign.com representing the benefits of using soy-based inks - follow the link for the large version on her website.
Recycled Inks
These can lessen the environmental impact of printing. Inks are not recycled in the same way as paper, plastics or glass and can't be recycled once they have been printed. Some ink providers can reuse old or spent inks by blending them together to form other, usually darker colours or black ink.

Deinking is the key process in paper recycling. Hydrophobic (water-repellent) ink particles are separated from hydrophilic (water-wettable) fibres. This process has been developed for offset and gravure inks which are roughly more than 95% of the current recovered paper mixture.
Current water based inks create problems as they cannot be removed in this process and accumulate in the system. Dyes and ink particles too small to be removed have no other exit than in the paper fibres. They stain them just as red socks make your white clothes go pink in the washing machine.

Check out the list below of inks that cause problems during the recycling of paper and don't de-ink!
Inks that cause problems and don't De-ink:
  • Digital Prints
  • Injet inks
  • Flexo inks
  • Indigo liquid toner 
To find out more about Deinking visit the International Association of the Deinking Industry at ingede.org
They also have the Deinkability scores here.

If you want to read more about the principles of ink check out paperrep.com.

For more Quick Guides for sustainable graphic design go to the quick guides page, or use the links in the top right hand column.

Monday, 1 August 2011

A framework for sustainable design

Over at livingprinciples.org they have distilled the decision process that goes into everyday design practice into a framework that anyone can follow.

The "Living Principles for Design" framework takes the four main areas of sustainability - environment, people, economy and culture and shows how these factors can be considered holistically.

In the road map they asks some questions to spark thoughts and consider alternatives in the following main areas.


  • Behaviours
  • Creation
  • Durability
  • Disassembly
  • Supply chain
  • Waste
  • Impacts


  • Impacts
  • Conflicts
  • Desirability
  • Need/Use
  • Long view


  • Systemic view
  • Metrics
  • Benefits
  • Transparency
  • Waste reuse


  • Visions
  • Meanings and reactions
  • A systemic view
  • Diversity

Check out the road map and see if you can integrate these questions into your design process.