There Are Vegetables In That Ink!
Even black ink can be green if it's made from soy or other veggies. Here's what you need to know about going green by using or looking out for plant-based inks.
When you're reading the back of a cereal box, a new novel or newspaper, or even a colleague's business card, there's a chance you’re reading veggies. As the need for eco-friendlier inks is gaining traction with printers and a number of product brands, all those words you’re seeing are that much more likely to be printed with materials you’d usually find in the supermarket — think all kinds of edible plants, from vegetables to soy, and even flaxseeds.
Plant-derived inks are gaining popularity, especially by eco-conscious companies and particularly as a complement to recycled or recyclable packaging and printed materials, often making packages much more biodegradable. These natural-material-based inks are an interesting alternative to the current standard, petroleum-based inks.
As printing moves back toward vegetable-based inks, you might begin to hear more about them or see their use mentioned on your favorite cookie or cracker box. Never thought twice about what’s on your packaging? Here are some of the basics:
What’s the norm?
Some of the most-widely used inks are petroleum-based
. One reason they're used often — and the reason they were turned to after WWII — is because they dry quickly and are inexpensive. Unfortunately, petroleum is a non-renewable resource, meaning once it's gone, it's gone.
As opposed to, say, soy-based inks, petroleum-based inks tend to contain more heavy metals and release larger amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs); both may pollute air and water not only during the printing process, but also once papers or other materials printed with petroleum-based inks are sent to the landfill.
Petroleum-based inks have their upside, too. Besides being efficient, they are sometimes the only option for food packaging, as other inks might not be compatible with shrink-wrapping or other packaging processes.
What makes plant-based inks better?
They may tend to be a little pricier, but when it comes to the environment, plant-based inks are worth the extra expense
: They release as little as one-fifth the VOCs as conventional petroleum-based inks and toners, they are made from resources that are renewable, and their production requires a fraction of the amount of energy that it takes to produce petroleum-based inks.
Plus, plant-based inks are biodegradable, and it's easier to remove them from paper during the paper recycling process
. In many cases, soy inks specifically perform better than petroleum-based inks in the actual printing process, spreading further on the printed material so that less is needed — to sum it all up, plant-based inks can require fewer net-new resources and go a bit further than the alternative.
Other than soy, what's used to make eco-friendly inks?
Besides soy, other plant products are being used to create inks. For instance, Greenerprinter
, an online printing service for business materials like brochures, signs, retail packaging, and other paper products, uses inks that have a combination of soy and other plants typically used in oil production, including linseed, canola, castor, and safflower. Other eco-friendlier materials from which it is possible to make inks include plant resins, like gum rosin.
What can I look for when I shop?
You can find earth-friendly inks on a wide array of products, from greeting cards
, and even cell phone packaging
; plus, some book publishers use soy-based inks
, and many newspapers do, too.
Though it isn’t the only
identifier of green inks, one particularly easy way to spot the use of soy-based inks is the SoySeal logo
, which certifies that the ink used contains a certain amount of soybean oil in its formulation (6–40%, depending on the type of ink). You can check for the SoySeal logo on packages, books, and other printed materials.
How about my at-home projects and printers?
If you need to have something printed — from business materials
to party invitations
— seek out printers who use plant-derived inks.
For at-home printing, even if you can't use eco-friendly inks, there are ways that you can still be eco-responsible while printing.
, a company that alters fonts so that they require 25% less toner to print, is planning to debut a home edition
. Using certain fonts
, such as Century Gothic, can also save toner — in some tests by Printer.com
, it showed a 31% savings over the default font Arial, and even used less toner than Ecofont.
Many printers can use refillable ink cartridges or continuous ink systems (in which ink in bulk bottles is continuously fed into the cartridges via tubes); both of these systems can reduce the waste caused by disposable ink cartridges.
What were you surprised to learn about eco-friendly inks? Share your comments below!
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